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Food is just as important as medicine' says hospital catering boss


A health board catering boss says food is “just as important as medicine” for helping fight off illness.

Karl Berry, catering manager for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s central area, has spent more than three decades feeding patients across North Wales.

His team produces over almost 620,000 meals a year, feeding around 500 patients three times a day – while making sure more than 2,500 staff get some well-earned sustenance during long shifts, if they need it.

The department’s team of more than 120 workers cover hospitals across the central health board area including Glan Clwyd, Abergele, Denbigh, Llandudno, Ruthin and Colwyn Bay.

Working with nursing teams and dieticians they make sure patients’ dietary and nutritional needs are looked after, helping to give them the strength to send illness and injury packing.

Karl said: “Food is just as important as medicine. There’s lots of data out there which supports this.”

“We have got nutritional requirements for lots of different patients with many different diets and complexities.

“They could be ceoliac, vegan, need a renal diet - or patients who are nutritionally compromised or malnourished and need additional foods to support them.

“We work with speech and language teams to help people who have difficulty swallowing, so we prepare special nutritional dysphagia diets, which essentially consist of blended food.”

Another important area where the catering staff will work closely with clinicians is around people being treated for eating disorders.

It’s a sensitive area of work and involves detailed planning and cooperation with clinical teams to help get patients back to good health.

The Report of the Independent Review of NHS Hospital Food, for which Prue Leith was an independent advisor, took up the theme of food as medicine.

It established “malnourished patients spend 30% longer in hospital than patients who are not malnourished” and meals need to be “high quality and nutritious. If you would not serve it to your chief executive, you should not serve it to patients.”

Making sure everyone gets an appetising, high quality and nutritionally balanced meal is something the central area catering team feels passionate about but it became a real test during the pandemic.

“As the hospital came through the surge they were opening red (Covid) wards, closing wards and moving patients around,” he explained.

“This meant we had to operate risk assessments and try and carry on feeding patients, while maintaining the safety of our staff.

“Our team has been amazing and works really hard to make sure everyone is fed according to their needs.

“We have been constantly juggling resources and staff because of Covid but they’ve been here a long time and really care about what they are doing, so we got through it.

“When you’re in hospital that menu can become a focal point because you have the independence to choose what you want. You want good food and you just want to get well.”