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 81.

    I remember the christmas of 2004 when my husband was in hospital waiting for heart tests and they kept him in all over that christmas and he ordered his meal for christmas day and what he ordered never arrived and its lucky we went in to see him that day and the hospital canteen was open or he would of had a to have sandwiches, we took him down to the hospital resturant and had to buy his dinner that day, i wonder how many more have to do this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I have to say how much I enjoyed watching this. Great positive show. Good to see great chefs working in mass food producing kitchens, helping our great NHS to save money, potentially save jobs and to help generate more income. It was also nice to see the kitchen personnel learning new skills, and seeing the improvements, hopefully giving them all greater job satisfaction. Keep them coming Beeb. Well done to everyone involved in the series. I wait with anticipation for the next viewing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Watching this morning and the Ward comparison with waste. This is not rocket science surely it is common sense to know how many you are cooking for. It beggars belief that this procedure has not been out in place right from the word go. Keep up the good work everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Great work James is undertaking. Perhaps at the same time, in particular at the Birmingham Hospital, it would be nice to see kitchen staff wearing some kind of hat or net to cover hair and prevent contamination with food. I find it very "sloppy" to see flowing hair where food is being prepared - even non chefs entering kitchens should be made to wear hairnets. I would not like to be a patient and find a hair in my food! Surely, the supply of some kind of headwear would not add a great deal to hospital budgets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    OH MY!!!! was watching this mornings show amazing as it is to realize how much waste there is , it is NO excuse for a top chef to double dip!!!!!!!
    Lawrence was tasting soup at the back of shot while James was talking and low and behold dips the same spoon in the same mix!!!!!!!!!!!!!out of order!!! and with hospital food !!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    James is doing a great job i would really love him to visit the Q A hospital in cosham portsmouth i think he would have the food exsperiance of a lifetime i spent 4.5 months in there & the only thing i could eat was a bowl of rice krispies & chese & crackers . I had a 80 year old man who was in the bed next to me that was told he could go home if he started eating but he couldnt eat the food & he had no one to bring him food its awfull i gave him some of the food my wife bought in every day i could tell you many more stories but all i can say is keep up the good work James its very much appreciated by all (ps as far as i know the food is delivered from wales in a refridgerated lorry)

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    I totally agree with a previous comment about the fact that the hospital food shambles at Birmingham is all down to bad management. We can't blame the earing guy (I do agree his attitude stunk a little) but it's not his fault that he was wasting sooo much custard without a second thought. With so many capable people out of work, I squirmed at the serious lack of adequacy demonstrated by the two women who visited Scarborough (kitchen manager and her boss). Had an overwhelming feeling of 'it's who you know' that helps some people get into top jobs - and nothing to do with competency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    James, your series is amazing, I am not long out of hospital,, and can confirm the food is not too appetizing! Can you come to Scotland and sort out our brand new hospital? I dont think you would get a very good reception from the admin, who dont even have enough beds or linen for the area covered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Fantastic effort by James Martin, how many of us would want to take on such a challenge with such negative attitudes to overcome. The public should stand behind this effort and support good food, less waste, local producers and farmers... in time a great result for everyone including educating people to eat healthily and within budgets. Also, improved job satisfaction should alleviate the negatives. Keep up the great effort. How about another chance for Jamie O at schools....

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Agree with Otleyartist....put this on prime time and maybe some of the daily social issues surrounding eating healthily within a budget could help lots of folk. James is doing a fantastic job under such negative circumstances. Hopefully he will succeed. The public should all be standing up for healthy fresh food, less waste and local producers and farmers. It is however quite appalling that as a nation we have to make TV out of such a disastrous situation. This morning the calculation on loss due waste was £26k p.a. (minimum in my opinion) for one hospital, imagine that multiplied by all the hospitals in England !!! Jamie O should also be given the chance to do this (again) at schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    My mum had hip replace done at medway hospistal kent
    it tha main hospistal for the area , she could not face the food
    because the smell was making her feel sick .
    they would not discharge her because she was not eating the food ,
    which has been mentioned so many times on your programe.
    Surley these top health ministers should sit up takenote and get
    local fresh food in and cook tasty and wholesome local food which would help the
    local producer and bring DOWN COST common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    I had surgery mid-January in Leeds and was lucky to stay at Nuffield Health Leeds Hospital under the NHS umbrella. The hospital operates a menu system and what a menu! - I enjoyed the varied food that was always tasty. After a couple of days I realised that I could have a s m a l l portion if I wanted it - and that option meant that I could finish what I ordered and there was no waste! - I am happy to say that mine was a very good experience of hospital food!

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    This show is great - would have been well received if it was evening viewing too. Such an eye opener to see how much food and money is wasted in the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Hi - I'm the programme's executive producer and wanted to respond to a couple of points raised. Firstly, del (comment #31) - it sadly was the case that only a few of the hospitals we contacted were willing to take part, but that list you refer to in the second episode wasn't a summary of all those that showed an interest - it was simply identifying for the first time the ones that we'd be following throughout the series. There were a handful of other hospitals that - like yours - we contacted in the early stages of research but didn't go any further with because they were either already doing many of the things that James would hope to introduce, or there wasn't a particular issue that he and his brigade of chefs could attempt to tackle. Sorry no-one from the team came back to you to explain that, but rest assured there was no hidden agenda! Thanks for all your comments and hope you enjoy tomorrow's final episode. Also, thanks to Petecool123 (comment #44), Burtiebassett (comment #60), Pixel (comment #62) and Margaret (comment #84) who have pointed out that hair should be tied up or covered when in the kitchen. We filmed across a number of months at the hospital and apologise for those occasions when our presenter and the hospital staff were not wearing hats. It is policy at the Royal Orthopaedic that catering staff should have hair tied back and wearing hats or hair nets as a minimum when preparing or handing food for public or patient consumption. Thanks so much for all the feedback – fantastic to see that the programme has stimulated so much debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Thanks Rob for taking the time to do programmes like this, it gives me great confidence that something now is being done for patients in the NHS and it might make other organizations sit up too, ie prisons and schools realize if hospitals can do it so can they, just takes someone to take the time to do all this and to care. I wish there were more people like James and your team that would do this for the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    "We can't blame the earing guy (I do agree his attitude stunk a little) but it's not his fault that he was wasting sooo much custard without a second thought"

    We don't know the back-story of course, I sincerely hope that the kitchen staff had raised the issue of wastage before. They are the ones pouring it away, they know just how much they are getting rid of. Of course maybe they did and weren't listened to....

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Thank you for your post, Rob - it's really lovely that you are taking note of people's responses to your programme. Although you appear to have focussed on some of the negative responses, there are an awful lot more positives. I know I mentioned lack of hair-covering and yeuchy long painted nails in one (#62 - the ref to long painted nails was a general one, not related to this programme at all - I was thinking more of the Two Fat Ladies cookery progs, where the dark-haired lady (Jennifer? )always had long red nails - bleurgh).

    I did also say this was a great campaign, and I wished it had been around to help my lovely grandparents. If their food had been prepared by someone not wearing the proper hairnet or not using the correct knife, they would still have been delighted at having something they could actually manage to eat - which is part of the substance of this programme. My lovely Nanna may not have died of part starvation, and my lovely Grandad would not have been admitted to a Nursing Home suffering from malnutrition, having been transferred from an NHS hospital. I would be very interested to find out if any of the hospitals my grandparents were in have been invited
    and/or agreed to take part. If not, they should have been, IMO!

    The programme and its entire campaign is wonderful, so please don't think all comments are negative. I SkyPlus it each day (haven't yet watched today's episode but will be shortly, after I've cooked today's supper)!!!!!

    It's a really great campaign.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Can I ask, which people in the show are in a position to help extend the knowledge acquired by the catering staff and managers to other places, and are there thoughts for how they might do this. James himself is clearly not in a position to give his time to improving the system nationwide unless he gives ups his day job (I don't mean this disparagingly - he is heroic) . I would thought that the people who accepted this change (the catering staff) would be in a great position to communicate their knowledge. They have been there and they have done it. It would be such a shame if such hospital food interventions ended at just these hospitals.
    Great to see daytime viewing of such value

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Congratulations to James and all the team for the work on hospital food. James comes across as so warm, committed, clear-sighted, motivational, willing to take on the most entrenched and red-tape bound systems - and yet remains humble about his role. Hurrah for putting patient needs first. True enough, in the long day as an inpatient, looking forward to a good meal, that you can choose, that is nutritious and delicious reaps psychological as well as physical improvements. I wish you every continued success in this vital campaign.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Pity that you didn't even mention hospital breakfasts. At my local Portsmouth hospital I had the choice of cereals with milk or porridge with milk. Don't like milk, so, no breakfast! - very good for my recovery. An idiot could do scrambled eggs (with water not milk), even or local prison manages it; maybe they could take over the hospital catering! Terry


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