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
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    Comment number 101.

    Any chance of visiting East Surrey Hospital in Redhill? Please??? They're happy to spend millions revamping the main entrance whilst the kitchen and older wards are falling apart around the patients' ears! Having worked in housekeeping and seen first hand the amount of food wastage, I applaud any attempt by anyone to make a difference to hospital food. To me it's the most important part of a patient's recovery (that and fluids of course!). If you can't face what's being served up how on earth are you going to get better, hence people being in hospital for weeks on end and bed blocking. It's not rocket science. But you can voice your opinions to the management until you're blue in the face, they're not interested and the job becomes soul destroying. Good on you James, I think you're doing a fantastic job.

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    Comment number 102.

    this programme has been fantastic and showed the weaknesses in our NHS food. James has done a fantastic job but i only wish this had been shown at peak time tv as it would give an insight to the difficulties cooking for a large number of different patients can be from ordering the right amounts and communication between the wards and the kitchens. everyone is on tight schedules but in the end James has proved it can be done and a great deal of money can be saved and made and then to go on and make the restaurants profitable. for me this is amazing. we just need some high profile administrator to try and organize workable systems. i am due to have a operation and would have loved james to have been in the kitchens of my hospital. i want to congratulate him and his colleagues who helped him. great work badly needed and i hope he can continue - many thanks

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    Comment number 103.

    Having watched both series I feel heartened that James and his fellow chefs are keeping the need for nutritious, restorative hospital food in the forefront of politicians and managements minds. I really hope it can become a blue-print across England like the proposed Welsh roll-out, as feel for many patients a delicious meal is the highlight of their day. Reading previous comments some hospitals are already doing a great job on equally tight budgets, but for the rest I hope they will see the benefit of change and also reap the reward in the future. My dad sadly died of a serious stroke last year but he loved his food, as a young man he worked hard running a cafe in Banbury, Oxfordshire with my mum serving fresh, wholesome food. And like myself he would have been 100% behind what James and Co are trying to achieve....well done to all!

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    Comment number 104.

    Have yet to watch the final episode (will do later). But all in all, this has been a great series, as was the last.

    I was personally particularly interested in the Tanner Brothers' contribution for stroke patients - they worked so hard to devise a suitable menu at that hospital, and it was utterly heartwarming to see how well-received it was.

    Also, purely from a selfish point of view, Stephen Terry, working in Wales (because my Mum and Dad live in Wales and are heading towards the inevitable hospitalisation as they grow ever older). They both love their food and it would be heartbreaking (as it was with my grandparents, years ago) to see them losing interest in life, simply because they had no lovely meals to look forward to.

    Let's face it, hospital is a horrible place, no matter how hard the staff work (my Grandmother and Sister were both nurses - I know their dedication). As a patient (particularly a long-term patient), mealtimes are one of the things you look forward to - it has to be something worthy of that, and will aid you in your recovery.

    Also the kichen staff in all these hospitals were obviously keen to improve things, and clearly felt a sense of self-worth - it was good for their own self-esteem to know they were doing something worthwhile, allowed to do their jobs properly, rather than just the usual "couldn't care less" trap they had fallen into and feeling tied to procurement issues.

    James, all your cheffy-friends, all the kitchen staff you worked with - well done all of you - you have done a great job. I just hope more hospitals will take up the baton.

    Suggestions for future - St Marks in Maidenhead, Princess Margaret in Windsor, Wexham Park in Slough, Neath General Hospital (S Wales) and St Peter's in Chertsey, Surrey. They would all benefit from a kitchen/menu revamp . . . . . . . (Future Episodes Possibly)??

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    Comment number 105.

    Don't really know how to blog but was inspired by programme - so here goes!! Insprirational! If JM and and his fellow chefs can donate their time & passion to convince the NHS/govt THIS is a WIN WIN situation for everybody, what can the millions of viewers do? I have ME/CFS but am willing to help. ....

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    Comment number 106.

    When I first started watching this programme, I thought it was just another chef jumping on the bandwagon. How wrong I was. This programme was compulsive viewing and each day I was just willing James and his teams on to make the improvements he was striving to make, especially when so many of them were often not supported by those very people who he was trying to help by saving their money or even improve their budgets. I was particulary heartened to see my own local hospital at Truro asking for help when so many others would not, and to see the Tanner brothers helping those patients on the Phoenix ward was wonderful. My only critisism would be that it should have been viewed later in the evening to hopefully reach more viewers, who like myself are probably unaware of the terrible waste and lack of organisation in some of our NHS hospitals. Great work James and team!!

  • Comment number 107.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 108.

    how can i get behind the idea and support all that your trying to do i think we need a petition to lobby parliament. Anyone of us could be in a hospital tomorrow eating the muck like that was served up in Birmingham before this. instead of sacking doctors or worse closing hospitals to save money. simple costing in areas such as food waste could save hospitals from closure.

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    Comment number 109.

    when are they doing more please even my husband enjoys it

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    Comment number 110.

    Just watched JM at B'ham Ortho. What a total lack of management, to think somebody must be being paid to oversee this lack of organisation. No wonder that we see cases like North Staffs if anyone in the organisation from the bottle washer to the CEO think that this is acceptable. I dont suppose that any heads will roll though, North Staffs again.
    As a complete asside, why should the NHS be expected to feed patients for free ? If they were at home they'd be paying to feed themselves.

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    Comment number 111.

    MilesTegg - the NHS is not free! The general public have paid into this service via National Insurance contributions. Many patients are elderly, therefore have been paying into this service ALL of their working lives (and for most of them, these means WORKING). This is NOT a "free" service. These patients deserve this service - get real!

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    Comment number 112.

    Excellent program, shows what can be done also highlights some problems which management should address

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    Comment number 113.

    Best program I have watched in ages, really enjoyed it. I just hope the Welsh Assembly listens to his advise because the food they serve in the Cardiff Trust hospitals is the worse I've ever eaten, only wish I could upload some of the dishes photographed while I was there having my hip replaced.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 114.

    Hi Lucy/James
    I've watched both series and it certainly brings home how entrenched certain practises there are in the NHS. James can see the huge task ahead of him and the amount of work that is needed. If I can lend a hand I will certainly do so. I am a Project Manager currently out of work, and actively seeking to do something. I am currently a High School Governor and therefore have a current CRB certificate. If my spare time could be put to some use in this cause please don't hesitate to get in touch.

 

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