On the few occasions Alf has spent in a hospital bed, he has been thoroughly underwhelmed by the quality of the tucker served to him.
He looks forward to a much better experience, on learning that the Government is planning to close all hospital kitchens and outsource the making of hospital meals.
Actually, this idea is at the proposal stage. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
But it seems up to 50 hospital kitchens might be closed, which would cost 1300 jobs nationwide.
Presumably that is not the net loss of jobs, because whoever wins the contract will want staff.
Mind you, the plan might be to save money by having patients somehow find their own food, a policy which would result in some big savings which could be put into further improving actual health services, although anyone not frisky enough to go scavenging might finish up somewhat ill-nourished and thus require additional treatment.
The Herald tells us (here) –
Currently a third of hospitals make their own meals and deliver them to the wards onsite under their District Health Board.
The rest are run by Spotless Services and Compass, two private contractors – they operate within hospital kitchens.
The kitchen closures have been proposed by Crown company Health Benefits Limited (HBL), who were set up by the Health Ministry to make savings within the public health service.
HBL plan to move to one provider that produces and supplies the food for the whole of public health system through one production kitchen in Auckland and another in Christchurch.
The Herald has said it believes a multinational consortium will run the kitchens that provide the meals that will be delivered chilled to hospitals, who will then reheat and deliver them to patients.
The process will no longer involve the DHB, but will be controlled by the contractor.
It is unclear if the consortium will be responsible for hiring staff to reheat the food at the hospital.
Alf was braced to have a natter with Health Minister Tony Ryall, to find out what’s doing.
No need. The Herald has quoted him as saying a large number of hospital kitchens have already contracted out to the private sector.
He said he was aware of the proposal, and HBL were working on a business case to save money.
“Before any District Health Board, before Health Benefits were to proceed with this they’d want to assure themselves as to the quality of the hospital food, and the standard of food that is being provided to New Zealand patients.
“Every dollar saved from more effective back-office services will be reinvested in frontline services for New Zealand patients.”
Labour’s Annette King is on the case, sniffing something improper. She popped up at Question Time in the House (here) to pursue the matter.
She asked if Tony agreed to the proposal from Health Benefits Ltd to close all public hospital kitchens and have TV-style reheated dinners fed to sick patients, prepared only in Auckland and Christchurch, and then transported hundreds of kilometres around New Zealand?
Tony pointed out that Health Benefits Ltd is working on a business case to try to save money, and any money that is saved in changes to kitchen services will be reinvested back into the New Zealand public health service.
There was a bit of uproar after the next question.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that the preferred provider of these budget airline-style meals for sick New Zealanders in our public hospitals is the Compass Group, a UK multinational company, which recently fed horse meat in its dinners; if so, how does he intend to measure the quality of the food provided by it in New Zealand? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I am interested in the answer.
Hon TONY RYALL: I have yet to receive a formal proposition from Health Benefits Ltd for this. I can tell the member that, as she knows, a large number of hospital kitchens, even when she was Minister of Health, were contracted out to the private sector.
It has a long history of involvement in hospital kitchens, and I can assure the member that before any district health board and Health Benefits were to proceed with this, they would want to assure themselves as to the quality of the hospital food and the standard of food that is being provided to New Zealand patients. What I can assure the member of is that every dollar saved
through more effective back-office services will be reinvested in front-line services for New Zealand patients, like more operations and more care for New Zealanders.
This didn’t exactly address the matter of whether a company that dishes up horse meat might start dishing up dinners to our hospital patients.
But this perhaps explains why Ms King said HBL’s proposal included plans to provide meals that could be unsafe for patients.
Why horse meat should be unsafe is not clear. So far as Alf knows, a nice chunk of horse is as good for us as a good chunk of – let’s say – beef or hogget.
The big disappointment is that going with Compass means we wouldn’t be going with Kentucky Fried.
Your hard-working MP is very fond of the colonel’s finger-licking-good chook and chips. He would happily go to hospital if this was on the menu.