As well as beating us at football this week (Real Madrid versus Manchester United), I also believe the Spanish win when it comes to their approach to hospital food.

This week I have spent most of my waking (and sleeping hours) in a Spanish hospital looking after my father who has pneumonia. I recently read the Spanish have twice as many doctors as the UK and use twice as many drugs – I can certainly attest to that. Every medical person has been Spanish and I have no doubt the food is prepared by middle-aged, hearty, Spanish women – who are very clear about what good food is all about. And I understand the food budget is at least 50% more than the UK and combined with double the drugs, they certainly were free flowing into my father – we couldn’t have asked for more.

Higher expectation of food

Spaniards have a fundamental difference in their attitude to food and their expectations compared to us Brits . The Spanish believe being in hospital should be an extension of being at home, you should be equally well looked after and this is evident from the catering service that the Spanish hospital have provided to my father.

Real food, cooked from scratch

Whilst the food is not gourmet by any stretch of the imagination, it is ‘real’ food. Without being offensive, I would describe it as basic and almost ‘peasant like’. It’s usually a piece of meat or fish, (that you recognise) and a vegetable, nothing fancy – no Curry’s, lasagnes or ‘mixed up food’ which in my experience of UK hospitals, looks unidentifiable.

The starter is always a hearty soup – and I mean hearty, it’s more like a vegetable casserole with potatoes, vegetables and pulses – varied by fact it has pieces of either meat or fish in it.

And the best bit, for my Dad, is that it is piping hot – I mean really hot – it comes in thick white china dishes that are scorching to touch – I have only ever experienced tepid food being served in Hospitals in the UK.

Quality and quantity

It’s very Spanish timing too – breakfast by about 9am, lunch at 2pm, then an evening meal about 8pm and another something to eat about 10pm. When I was speaking to the Spanish ladies and told them that in the UK you get fed about 6pm and that’s it until morning, they were aghast.

There is also a major difference in that you are given a chair next to bed that converts to a bed, so the family is expected to come in and play a major part in looking after the patient. A small kitchenette is made available with a boiling plate and a microwave (very non H&S) so that you can provide food if needs be – in the UK I was once chased out because I was trying to use the staff microwave. The corridors are awash with family members standing around chatting to each other. It’s probably why the rooms only have 2 beds in them – it creates so much noise.

KPIs or let the customer decide?
Interestingly they serve exactly the same food in the public café downstairs. For 8 euro’s you get the soup, a bread roll, a main course, a pudding and a drink (beer being available as a choice). I am not sure if any hospital in UK would be brave enough to do that but it certainly would be a test of their confidence in the food they serve. Maybe that’s what they should do instead of all those KPI’s. If the public will pay for it, then you know you have got it right.
I am pleased to report my Dad is getting stronger everyday.

Wendy Bartlett
Managing Director, bartlett mitchell

My earliest food memories are of my mum’s baking; coconut pyramid cakes were my favourite.

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