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In mid-December Waitaki District Health Services, the Waitaki District Council-controlled company that owns and operates the hospital, signed an agreement with Presbyterian Support Otago to prepare meals for inpatients, maternity ward patients, staff and the town's Meals on Wheels service from Iona Enliven Care Home and Hospital, based in north Oamaru.
The agreement came into effect on January 14 and as a result, six part-time kitchen staff at the hospital lost their jobs.
At the first of four community meetings held at the Oamaru Opera House last Tuesday, the quality of the some of the food being prepared at Iona was criticised by one speaker, who described it as "disgusting".
She said it was clear some of the food being prepared was frozen and not fresh and questioned its nutritional value.
Waitaki District Health Service chief executive Ruth Kibble said the company was pleased with the quality of food being prepared at Iona and said the food quality standards being adhered to were the same as when food was being produced at the hospital.
She said the process ensured all meals were of high quality.
"Meals are cooked fresh at Iona, packaged and sent to Oamaru Hospital. For patients, they come in an electric-heated cart and [for] Meals on Wheels in food bins that are insulated."
From mid-January and in February the company conducted a survey with hospital inpatients, and in February with those who use the Meals on Wheels service.
Of the 80 surveys distributed to the latter, 45 were returned.
Both asked questions about the food's texture and flavour, presentation, portion sizes, temperature on arrival and if containers were easy to open.
More than 90% of respondents said the taste and flavour of the meals was appetising, well presented, had an adequate portion size and had convenient packaging.
About 75% said it was at a satisfactory temperature.
However, about half said the containers were not easy to open.
Information provided to the Otago Daily Times showed at least 20 inpatients were surveyed and only three people said the meals lacked flavour and were not a satisfactory temperature, and two said presentation was not up to standard.
Six said containers were not easy to open.