THE thought of hospital food conjures up images of sloppy porridge, dry sandwiches and tasteless stew.
But Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust is aiming to dispel those myths and memories by producing a menu of nutritious and exciting dishes for patients at its three hospitals. And forming a thriving business that supplies food for more than 40 external clients to boot.
This includes three other trust hospitals, 18 schools, Wigan Council, five nursing homes and almost 30 luncheon clubs.
And the business has grown so much it has extended its arm with a new sandwich room, delivering wraps and sandwiches to its consumers.
Paul Riley, catering manager for the WWL Trust, said: “As we have been experiencing challenging times financially, we thought about making excess income. If savings have to happen, we have to grow.
“So as well as making meals for our patients in our three hospitals, we have been working with Wigan Council, Metrofresh, local nursing homes, luncheon clubs, schools, colleges and we also supply Burnley, Bolton and Calderstones hospitals.
“We also provide emergency meals for the council in case there is a gas leak, flooding or a major incident – luckily we have never had to implement that yet. It has grown to be an excessive business. We have grown our income by half a million and at the moment our income stands at £1.4m.
“As a result, we recently got a new sandwich room approved which is used solely for rolls, wraps, barms and sandwiches. We can supply the whole product to our clients.
“We make any filling – the schools tend to opt for plainer sandwiches – chicken and bacon or chicken mayonnaise are the most popular.
“But we never forget what we are here for and it is not all about income. This is to supply good, nutritious and tasty food for patients in our beds.”
The hospital’s catering department is proud of its extensive menu, which suits all dietary requirements and tastes, and even throws in a Leigh delicacy: lobby. Paul added: “There is a stigma about hospital food but we are really proud of our meals. We try to mirror what people would have at home, so we offer a healthy breakfast of cereal and toast, a mid-morning snack of a cup of tea and a biscuit, fruit, a soup and a sandwich or salad for lunch, an afternoon treat, a hearty meal at night and a supper.
“We offer a chippy tea on Fridays and Saturday is a lobby lunch. In the summer we even offer ice lollies and choc ices, which has astounded patients and their families. “As a hospital, we provide food for people with special dietary requirements, such as gluten-free, low or high protein, halal and diabetic.”
Jane Young, deputy hotel services manager, said: “Our main focus is on hydration and nutrition, making sure our patients have enough food and drink and our staff are aware of their needs.”
The catering department is growing and is going from strength to strength.
Overall it has 109 staff, with 54 housed at the main base in Leigh Infirmary,
It serves 4,000 meals a day and Paul estimates that it is approaching making its two millionth sandwich soon.
The millionth was created in Billinge Hospital in 1995.
One of the health trust’s bosses got stuck in by making sandwiches in the new catering facilities.
Silas Nicholls, deputy chief executive and director of strategy at WWL NHS Foundation Trust, lent a hand as part of his regular “back to the floor” initiatives to ensure each department is running as effectively as possible.
He pitched in at Leigh Infirmary’s new sandwich room, making butties and wraps for patients, as well as Wigan Council, schools and other companies.
Mr Nicholls said: “It is important for the senior managers to understand what is happening on the shop floor. “We can read lots of reports and be told information, but the best way is to look for yourself.
“The other reason for doing this is that part of my responsibility is for the estate and hotel facilities and I want to make sure I understand what I am asking my staff to do.
“It is important to understand the issues that the staff are facing. They can ask me questions and come forward with new ideas.
“I enjoy doing these ‘back to work’ exercises. I try to do one every one to two months.
“This is a great opportunity to get to know our employees better, hear their stories and appreciate the good work they do.”
Paul Riley, catering manager for the trust, said: “It is great that the staff see people who make decisions that affect them get stuck in with them.
“It is nice to have that contact with the executives and to be able to ask questions and get answers.
“We are very proud of what we have achieved and are delighted to show the executives exactly what we do,”