NHS trust row with catering firm over chocolate mousse

An NHS Trust which tried to deduct more than £80,000 from its catering bill because of a day-old chocolate mousse has been criticised by a judge.

In total, the Mid Essex Hospital Services trust tried to withhold more than £700,000 from private catering firm Medirest, the High Court heard.

Mr Justice Cranston said the deductions, including for three-day old bagels, were "patently absurd".

Neither party could win damages claims after their contract ended, he said.

Relationship 'poisoned'

In April 2008, Medirest won a multimillion-pound contract to supply meals at St John's and Broomfield hospitals in Essex for seven years, the eight-day hearing was told.

But the deal collapsed after 18 months when the trust repeatedly made complaints and, at one point, tried to deduct more than £700,000 from the caterer's entitlements, the judge said.

The "ridiculously high" deductions included £46,320 for a box of out-of-date ketchup sachets found in a cupboard, £84,550 for a day-old chocolate mousse and £96,060 for three-day-old bagels, he added.

The relationship between the two parties was "poisoned" when the trust refused to respond to Medirest's attempts to compromise, the judge said.

The contract was brought to an end in October 2009.

The judge said Medirest was entitled to end the contract because the trust had breached its contract and failed to "co-operate in good faith".

Claims outstanding

But he also accepted the trust had the right to end the contract because Medirest had "accumulated the requisite number of service failure points".

In his ruling, the judge said neither the trust nor Medirest could win their claims for losses after the contract was ended.

The trust and the caterers still have financial claims outstanding against each other.

"Given the amounts already expended on this case, I very much hope that these matters can be quickly resolved by negotiation between the parties, without further resort to this court," the judge said.

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