No reason given for hospital food delay

The Government-established entity tasked with awarding New Zealand hospital food contracts to a sole provider is refusing to say why progress appears to be lacking.

Health Benefits Ltd communications and engagement manager Mark Reynolds said when contacted yesterday the organisation had ''nothing further to say at this point''.

Previously, Mr Reynolds has been willing to give updates to media on the plan.

''That's all I've got to say, OK,'' he said four times, in response to queries from the Otago Daily Times, before hanging up.

After the phone call, Mr Reynolds re-sent the ODT a copy of an email he had sent in February, which said HBL worked hard to get the detail of projects right, rather than meeting ''arbitrary'' time frames.

However, Mr Reynolds previously said a business case would be presented to health boards early this year, which did not materialise.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said in a statement there were ''no delays'' to the project.

''The top priority for HBL is to improve the quality of food across the country. I refer you to HBL for further information.''

Last week, representatives of Southern hospital kitchen workers expressed exasperation to the Southern DHB at the delay in learning their fate.

Health board managers said they would make a greater effort to keep staff informed.

Service and Food Workers Union Southland organiser Anna Huffstutler said yesterday when contacted workers were stressed and ''left in the dark''.

''There was such a huge hiss and a roar when it first hit the media and they're still waiting. And I think that's really hard for them.

''The concern is when [HBL] do present the business case, what sort of timeline will we get to consult before they say, `This is what we're doing', and start implementation.''

HBL's plans to centralise most hospital kitchen food production to ''mega-hubs'' in Auckland and Christchurch under a sole external provider prompted public concern when revealed in April last year.

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