At odds over changes to hospital meal plan

Richard Thomson.
Richard Thomson.
District health boards have no control over plans to give their patients ''cheaper, fattier mince'', because that is what the Minister of Health presumably wants, Southern DHB member Richard Thomson says.

Mr Thomson made the comment in response to revelations at the weekend that plans to save money on hospital food involve giving patients fattier mince from next year.

Meanwhile, it was unclear last night what a major change to the hospital food proposal meant for Dunedin.

Government entity Health Benefits Ltd has dropped its plan for a mega kitchen in Christchurch, but HBL declined to confirm that food would come from Auckland.

The New Zealand Herald reported at the weekend that outside Auckland, hospital meals would no longer be cooked fresh but would be delivered in components for cooking or heating.

Mr Thomson said hospital food was just one of the areas health boards no longer controlled.

''If HBL want everyone to eat cheaper, fattier mince, then that's what they will get.

''Of course if the [Minister of Health] wanted everyone to eat healthier mince then he could do to HBL what he has already done to the boards and tell them what is going to happen.

''I can only assume that the minister is happy with fatty mince, although that may be when it is being given to sick people, rather than ministers.''

In response, Health Minister Tony Ryall said the programme was about improving the quality of hospital food by using ''modern techniques'' and better use of resources through co-operation between health boards.

''HBL is advised by an expert group of dietitians,'' he said.

Mr Ryall maintains health boards can decide whether to go ahead with the programme, which is at odds with Mr Thomson's insistence the boards have no control.

Mr Ryall, who is retiring at the September election, did not respond to a question about whether he would be happy to eat the fattier mince himself.

University of Otago dietitian Associate Prof Winsome Parnell said when contacted she did not have enough information about the proposal and what would be implemented to comment in detail.

However, she would be concerned by a move to lower-grade ingredients, because public institutions should model good nutrition, which included using lean meat.

Food would be wasted if patients refused to eat meals they did not like.

A move to inferior ingredients could see patients start to rely on family members to provide food.

Families providing meals was problematic, including because of hygiene standards, and some patients did not have family who could provide for them.

The New Zealand Herald reported on Saturday that HBL's nutrition advisory group had warned a raft of proposed changes, including some that have been dropped, could lead to patient malnutrition and even death.

As well as fattier mince, the 10g protein count for sandwiches would include bread, and the minimum protein delivered each day would drop from 90g to 80g, the Herald reported.

HBL yesterday issued a statement reiterating assurances the new meals would be as good or better than the status quo.

The changes will save between $100 million and $120 million over 15 years, HBL said.

Service and Food Workers Union Dunedin Hospital delegate Cathryn Herd said yesterday the workers had been told there would be no announcement on their jobs until after the September election.

HBL spokesman Steve Fisher said last night he would be happy to discuss potential job losses ''closer to October''.

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