Calls for improvement of hospital food by Australian Medical Association

According to the Australian Medical Association (AMA) the quality of meals must improve in public hospitals in South Australia or more patients will be discharged in a malnourished state. It says nutrition is being addressed but the overall standard of meals is not high enough. They added that for elderly patients there are simple obstacles such as hard-to-open food packaging.

Dr Andrew Lavender of the AMA says hospital food must be further improved. “The problem is many patients will leave a lot of their food on the plate and there really isn't the mechanism to follow up and supervise why…It means we do have to have focus on better availability and more choices,” he said. “A lot of patients do become malnourished in hospitals…They are trying to improve nutrition, but when you're cooking for 700 or 800 people the quality is often not up to scratch…Generally, the elderly and those who are sick don't have an appetite and there isn't much of a follow-up in terms of what someone doesn't eat. People having major operations are in a state where their body requires extra nutrients to recover and they often they don't get that. People do depart hospital down in weight,” he added. Dr Lavender said a review of nutrition within hospitals was needed to produce an “individual focus rather than a mass-meal type approach”.

SA Health CEO David Swan however says there is nothing wrong with the meals served in public hospitals. “We regularly evaluate our food to make sure it meets the patients' needs…We regularly receive feedback from patients on how they perceive the quality of meals, so it is of a high standard,” he said.

Nutrition Professionals Australia dietician Tania Ferraretto said a “decent amount” of time in any facility could lead to malnutrition. “What we tend to see with malnutrition is weight loss, nutritional deficiencies like a lack of vitamins and wounds not healing quickly. And contrary to what people think, you can have a malnourished obese person,” she said. Children, Youth and Women's Health Service director Trish Strachan said the Women's and Children's Hospital “provides high quality food to all its patients”.

Health Minister John Hill also thinks the food is of high standard but says there is always room for improvement. “Sometimes people don't eat the food that they're given and I think a lot of people of course are used to putting a lot of salt in their food and the hospitals tend not to put salt because of health reasons and it doesn't taste as flavor some as they might be used to at home…So there are a lot of issues I think that's true to say, but by and large it's pretty nutritious food that we get,” he said. A 2009 inquiry found that 50 per cent of NSW hospital patients were malnourished and starving. Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA secretary Elizabeth Dabars said that she supported any improvements to nutrition in hospitals. Ms Dabars said the federation was particularly focused on making sure elderly people could easily open the food they were served. “We'd be very supportive of ensuring the food is nutritious, is available and can be easily opened…If the packaging does become difficult to open, there is every possibility the meal may be taken way without them being able to consume it.”

But Opposition health spokesman Duncan McFetridge says he hears regular complaints from people about the food. “The food in a hospital needs to be the very best food available, this meal needs to be monitored by an independent authority so that all food that's being served to all patients in all of our public hospitals is the very best so they can get better and get out of hospital,” he said.

At Royal Adelaide Hospital, meals for a standard diet can include mixed sandwiches, cold meat and salad, lasagne, roast chicken, fish and potatoes and goulash. Deserts include apple crumble and chocolate mousse, with special menus prepared for patients suffering from a range of conditions such as diabetes and low cholesterol.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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