Operation Hospital Food with James Martin: The biggest challenge

Monday 25 February 2013, 08:15

Lucy McLennan Lucy McLennan Series Producer

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There is no denying that hospital food can have a pretty poor reputation and often it is well deserved.

So to be able to work on a BBC One series that aims to improve hospital food, and hopefully change the public’s perception of what is served in our hospitals, has been fantastic.

As the series producer, easily the biggest challenge for me was simply finding and convincing a hospital to open its doors to our cameras and presenter, TV chef James Martin.

James Martin and the catering team at Birmingham's Royal Orthopaedic Hospital James and the catering team at Birmingham's Royal Orthopaedic Hospital

Myself and the producer/director Johnny Perks travelled all over the country speaking to countless hospital managers but generally they were pretty guarded.

I think this is a natural reaction; why wouldn’t they be wary of a film crew descending on their hospital and exposing their flaws?

I found honesty was the best policy. Yes, we were looking for problems or weaknesses in their food, but the aim of Operation Hospital Food with James Martin is to improve the meals served and leave the catering in a better state than it was in when we arrived.

When we first visited Birmingham’s Royal Orthopaedic Hospital they were very open about the issues they had with the catering department, in particular the overspend, the levels of food returned uneaten from the wards every day, and the low morale of the kitchen team.

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Once food has gone up to the wards it can’t be served to anybody else, even when it’s untouched

Head chef Tracey and head of facilities Emma were very keen to take part in the project because they had been warned that unless things changed, the catering department faced the prospect of losing their jobs and an external company being brought in to provide the patients’ meals.

The kitchen team did have concerns with allowing us in, as they didn’t know how James was going to react to them or what changes he would implement, but after a few tense moments they came to realise that he was on their side and his changes were for the better.

Filming in small and noisy working hospital kitchens presented plenty of technical challenges for the crew, but it was the British weather that nearly scuppered one of the big moments of the series.

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James asks some of the country's top chefs for a hand

James had invited a group of top class chefs to his home to ask them to join him in his mission.

To set the scene, we put together an outdoor summer garden but after spending most of the day setting up, the proverbial heavens opened! Good old British summer time!

The day was a wash out, but fortunately the chefs took it in good humour. You can enjoy watching them in episode two cooking huddled under golf umbrellas - and they still ate the soggy pizzas they'd all been preparing in the rain.

Throughout the series we faced many challenges but we built up a fantastic relationship with all the staff at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, which made it much easier - especially the early morning starts!

James became very close to everyone we worked with at the hospital. As you’ll see, there were a few difficult situations as emotions ran high, but they always ended positively.

James even treated the team to a day out go-karting to help boost morale, which you don't see in the series.

Everyone got stuck in with the racing especially James and Gaz who were determined to beat each other; I’m still not sure who actually won as they both claim they had the fastest lap!

The highlight has to be being able to play an admittedly small part in transforming hospital food around the country.

At some point we are all going to have a loved one spend time in hospital.  So if the work we have done on Operation Hospital Food makes their stay even a little easier, then the hard work was definitely worth it.

Lucy McLennan the series producer of Operation Hospital Food with James Martin.

Series two of Operation Hospital Food with James Martin begins on Monday, 25 Feburary at 9.15am on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Hospital food: The chef that hopes to improve standards: Read the BBC Food feature

BBC Food: Recipes from Operation Hospital Food with James Martin: Try one of the exclusive recipes from the series

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Enjoying the programme and love the 365 day formula to show how much money can be saved.
    This situation also exists in many County Council buildings too and I suspect anywhere where large government run buildings inc Prisons.
    Attitudes are a main problem and I hope this problem can be locked at , in the same way, for other large buildings..

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I enjoyed the first episode this morning. I am appalled at the lack of organisation, how on earth can any large organisation run without costing guidelines, recipes etc. I would imagine all relevent people should be involved, dietcian, chef, costing admin all need to be sat down and explained what's what. I hope the young chef can change his attitude and work with James, who is there to help afterall. Keep up the good work James

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I am finding the managements attitude to problems unbelievable.
    Its almost as if everything is the kitchen staffs fault whereas in fact its almost always managements lack of direction and control. We never did get to find out why the menu system was discontinued or who made the decision to change it.
    I have a friend in hospital in France where the menu is selected on the wards on a tablet and the food is 5 star so its possible to minimise waste.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    James has a lot of patience and it was heartbreaking to see the attitude of the chefs today. I am aware they are frustrated but if they don't conform to the hospital regime they are out of a job and in this climate they are lucky to have one. I had a battle trying to get staff to understand the importance of compliance and doing things the right way, in the end it led to stress and I left as it made me ill. I couldn't get past my manager the failings of the staff, and I was told it was my fault. I have been on a career break for over 2 years but now intend to return to a different employer and hopefully the staff have good leadership as I don;t intend getting stressed again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Great TV! Like the last series it is addictive viewing. This raises such important issues about how NHS budgets are being (mis)spent that it really justifies being taken from daytime and moved to an evening slot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Watched the first programme was appalled by the insensitive footage obviously for TV impact. James has to think himself lucky to have been trained by the likes of Brian Turner etc. in kitchen management, but should also understand that his man management, building skills are limited and he has to understand the different strokes for different folks maxim. If I had been in that kitchen today he would have ended up wearing the custard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I love what James is trying to achieve for our hospitals, it is long overdue. The first thing that is unbelievable to me is that this kitchen did not know how many they were cooking for daily. This resulted in an obscene amount of daily waist, absolutely criminal. I will continue to watch with interest. Will James be visiting any more hospitals? Please keep up the good work as I firmly believe that part of a patients recovery depends on the quality of food they eat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I hope that viewers of this programme dont think that all Hospital catering department work like this one or like the previous series. Lots of us Hospital caterers take great pride in our work and provide good fresh food to our patients. I did talk to the production team about taking part and they were not intrested as they need to have the achivement factor, so they pick a hospital that is not up to the mark / standard and then it's seen as a fantastic turn around / achivement. This is all very well but what is the long term achivement to the NHS as a whole, is goverment giving a better budget to caterers? In the programme it said that the patient Budget was £3.60, this is at the topend of most catering budgets, my budget per patient per day including 3 meals and 7 hot beverages and snacks throughout the day is £2.68. we make fresh homemade soup every day and use local suppliers for most of our products (all milk is from within 10 miles of the hospital and we use fresh bread baked this morning for patients sandwiches)
    I'm only able to respond this this as I'm on leave today and I'm still checking my e-mails and watching TV about Hospital caterering, Some (most) of us do care about the standard of hospital food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I must have missed this great program in the past but what an eye opener, some of the staff like the cook with an earring should take a serious look in the mirror, if they were working in a private commercially run restaurant and took the attitude he takes in episode one shown today 25/2/13 @ 09.15am not only would the business fail but coming out with outbursts like " I am not having him talking to me like that" (meaning James Martin) would have quickly earned him the sack. He needs a few more lessons in economics as it appeared he did not understand why it was important to include in the book (reference manual) everything associated with preparing and cooking food, if he was personally paying the energy bill he would readily understand why it should be in the book so everyone cooks the food for the same time.

    Having watched this program I could almost write a book on it and it is to James Martin's credit and the BBC's this important subject is being show again to the Nation detailing just how much waste there is in our hospitals and inadequate managers allowing it to happen. Private restaurants could not survive with practices and staff as shown in this program as they do not have a bottomless purse like the NHS funded by us the rate payers. If our Prime Minister has not been shown this program he should as the enforcement of the necessary practices that need to be adopted would save millions of £'s resulting in not just happier patients in Hospitals but happier and perhaps more deserving staff !

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Interesting programme but why is the provision of hospital food treated as if they are running a restaurant? Why not provide the same food to all the patients in the hospital? By all means offer a meat course and a non-meat course and a salad but why multiple choices? Also, when you are in hospital you aren't paying for your food at home and are therefore being subsidised by the tax payer so why not charge for meals?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Disappointed with the programme. It is an insult to viewers intelligence in that it has obviously slavishly followed the formulaic approach (Jamie Oliver less the charm). James Martin is obviously a bully picking on ordinary, powerless staff members who aren't verbally skilled enough to defend themselves adequately (even threatening their jobs),while not questioning in any meaningful way management who in the final analysis should be blamed for the chaotic approach.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Tuned in late as I didn't realise James was doing another series. Glad I did as this appears to have as much viewing power as Scarborough which was an eye opener.
    Firstly, Birmingham should consider themselves lucky to have a specialised Orthopaedic hospital as my local world-renowned one, Harlow Wood, was closed and demolished several years ago. I digress, but leading up to the point that the hospital managers are not doing their jobs. This is a five ward hospital - a luxury by today's standards - and keeping control of costings and overall budgets for every department should be a doddle. Has anyone been monitoring the cost of the waste? Don't expect so. Alarm bells are ringing. What about wastage and efficiency in all the other areas? What do we as taxpayers pay the ever increasing army of NHS Managers for? Good on you James - keep on it, we need you! But please go easy on the staff as they are not being led positively - for instance "Please put the times/temperature/recipe in this book - although I know 'you' know them, but the next person to pick up the recipe book might not!" - or something along those lines so the chef doesn't feel his skills are being questioned.
    Great viewing!! But I'd be happy just to tune in and watch James stir the custard!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Very good show! Poor James how frustrating for him...how can you help someone who doesn't want it. I was in hospital last year and I wish he would visit that one it was served in plastic plates and was totally disgusting...so glad I was only in there for just over 2 days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Well dune the BBC & James Martin. I am in and out of the Conquest Hospital. Becouse I have COPD & Pancreatitis. As for the food . When it gets to us it is dry & tastless. The resion is that the food is cooket at East Bourne Hospital. The Conquest Hospital had a fire I think it was five or six years ago. The kitchen is fully equipt . I know I helpet to instorl it . from Tony M.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    loved the programme i have tweeted james straight away he must have the patience of s saint
    i love cooking and baking and i always need to follow a receipe thats for my famaly
    would not even dream of cooking for patients in hospital without knowing numbers

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    All taxpayers should get behind James Martin in his quest. In this time of austerity we should all take an interest. Not to mention the improvement in hospital food as it will be easier to carry out quality control. Today's chef needs to have a better understanding of finance as well as being able to prepare quality food. He showed neither quality! Good luck to James Martin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I loved the first series. So glad you are rolling it out amongst other hospitals. I hope you get a health minister on board. Are you letting us have the menus and recipes ( the Butter Squash soup from the last series is now one of my favourites). Plus, all hospital management should be forced to have hospital lunch every day ...things would soon buck up !

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this programme, having been in and out of University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff many times (the longest being 8 weeks) I have had horrendous experience of hospital food especially being a vegetarian, on more than one occasion I was offered sandwiches as a main meal in the evening as there was no suitable food available.Equally the vegetarian food that was on offer was practically inedible,soggy,wet brocolli and cauliflower with a watery excuse for cheese sauce. In the end I was relying onvfriends and family to bring me food almost every day. When you are in hospital you are there to get well and the food standard is unacceptable and certainly not condusive to feeding patients sympathetically and with a view to their health

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I watched the first series and was hoping for a second. I have been in hospital 3 times in the last 12 months and struggled with the food on each occasion. I am Coeliac and therefore on a gluten free diet which is not difficult to adhere to when at home. On my recent admission I lost 5 kg on 2 weeks despite talking to various hospital staff. Having read the previous comments it is clear there are numerous issues involved. It is also clear that there is a lot to be done and I would be happy to get involved and help if at all possible. May I also add that one of the saddest things to see was the elderly not eating properly...yet another issue but a very important one which is not being addressed sufficiently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    “Hi, I’m a researcher in the production team and wanted to thank you all for taking the time to leave a comment.
    I’m pleased that so many of you are enjoying the series so far! We really appreciate all your comments - good and bad.
    It is interesting to hear from those of you who like tony miles (comment #14), vivien (comment #18) and Sylvia (comment #19) have had first-hand experience of hospital food, but perhaps unsurprising that many of your experiences are negative. Of course not every hospital has problems with their catering and I have to agree with del (comment #8) that many are doing a stellar job with limited resources.
    Peter (comment #11), I’m sorry that you felt James didn’t fully explore the reasons behind why the kitchen is struggling. This is just the start of the journey for James and the team at the Royal Orthopaedic - in the first episode James was only just getting to grips with the problems he would be facing. In the forthcoming episodes you’ll see James working closely with the team in Birmingham to try to identify solutions without apportioning blame to any individual.
    Twurly (comment #7) – Yes, James will be visiting more hospitals from across the UK during the series – but you’ll have to keep watching to find out where he ends up!
    James and Galton Blackiston (another chef featured in the programme) are making a few of the recipes available on the BBC Food website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/programmes/b01cbwfm – so gordonastley (comment #17) you can try cooking a few more of James’dishes. Enjoy!”


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