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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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Ready meals plan for Cumbria's hospitals on hold

Plans to roll out ready meals to all cottage hospitals in Cumbria are on hold while bosses find out more about what people think of them.

Michael Smillie photo
Michael Smillie

Michael Smillie, from the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said they are “taking a pause” before expanding the new scheme.

To date, the frozen ready meals have already been introduced in Brampton, Alston, Cockermouth, Workington and Millom, as well as at Carlisle’s Carleton Clinic.

There are plans to roll that out to the other four community hospitals – Wigton, Penrith, Keswick and Maryport – but they have been met with opposition in some areas.

Mr Smillie, the trust’s director of strategy and support services, said they want to work with these communities to address any concerns before launching the meals.

That includes holding more tasting sessions so anyone worried about the changes can try the meals for themselves.

He said: “We are having a pause and taking some time to double check before we go any further. It’s about working with people rather than pushing it.

“Everyone has got their own opinion. We are not trying to railroad people into this. We are asking them to come along and try the food for themselves.”

The frozen ready meals are made by a specialist company called Apetito, which provides nutritionally-balanced food to hospitals and care homes. They are frozen straight from cooking before being heated up on site using special ovens, then served on china plates.

The trust believes the scheme is far better for patients as it means they get more choice and small hospitals can easily cater for all kinds of dietary requirements. The firm also specialises in pureed meals for those unable to chew.

However, there are fears that the meals will not be as nutritious or appetising as those cooked on site from scratch. The county’s Joint League of Friends initially expressed its concerns, but Mr Smillie said that following some successful tasting sessions they are now supportive of the plans.

In Brampton, hospital supporters were also concerned but several members said they had been converted after trying the food.

In hospitals where the frozen meals are already being served, Mr Smillie said they are being very well received.

“It’s going really well,” he said. “Patients in Cumbria are actually getting more choice than they’ve ever had. We don’t get any negative comments.

“The extra choice is really good especially if you don’t want to eat at a certain time. You can have it at any time you like,” he explained.

He hopes that any remaining concerns will now be addressed by carrying out further tasting sessions and consultation.

At the Cumbria Partnership’s board meeting last week, deputy lead governor Mark Wilson asked bosses if the issue was something the trust was in danger of “shooting ourselves in the foot” over.

But Mr Smillie said the aim is to ensure the quality of meals is consistent across all sites.

“We need to go carefully and get it right,” he said.

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