Unfortunately I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals lately – visiting rather than as a patient. I’m also old enough to see how things have changed over the years. The technology may have changed but there is still plenty of the old around – overworked exhausted looking doctors and the visible nursing hierarchy but also plenty that has changed. For one that hospital odour, that used to pervade everything, and somehow symbolised cleanliness has gone – replaced by gallons of hand gel. The structure of the place doesn’t seem as clear cut and because of changing hospital practices and infrastructure rather than failure there seems to be a much higher patient turnover on the wards.
I’ll use the opportunity to say that I think paying for parking at a hospital is obscene. The NHS is supposed to be funded through our taxes and allowing people to easily visit should be part of the deal. The charges are outrageous and I think it ways a lot about modern Britain that we let it happen. Everything is done and decided at strategic level and as we fight to ensure the survival of the NHS, Government policy chips away and erodes the very thing and its surrounding values that we want to support.
This brings me to food. The old threat of “do you like hospital food?” was based on one of the sitcom standards about the quality of catering. I’m not sure it was ever true but it still survived along with school dinners as the butt of jokes. This morning I visited Heartlands Hospital and tried it out for myself.
Things have changed in our busiest hospitals. Gone are the volunteer counters where a couple of old ladies dished out cups of tea in china cups between very specific hours as a fund-raiser. These days hospitals have taken the commercial opportunity to get retailers and coffee franchises in who are all too keen to enjoy the unique market.
In Heartlands Hospital – a large site in Stechford, East of the city centre they gave got a Starbucks franchise alongside the cafe. If I’m honest I would rather have a decent cup of coffee than some of the machine-created muck other places serve. It’s nice to see lots of staff in the queue taking advantage during their breaks and, lord knows, they probably can use the caffeine. The whole cafe area looks clean, spacious and modern. In true hospital tradition the staff do seem very stretched but also, in good hospital tradition, they keep a smile on their face and really appear to care for the customers they serve – especially the nurses. The staff who served me were exceptional and should be praised as friendly ambassadors for the hospital supporting the troops like a field canteen supports the armed forces.
The cafe is also a pleasant surprise. After admiring it from afar on a number of occasions I had breakfast there on Sunday. The buffet is not of epic hotel breakfast proportions but there are two aspects I like. Firstly, the ingredients look nice and freshly prepared – nicely finished fried eggs and a choice of crispy bacon. There’s black pudding which is something of a test of a decent breakfast. There is also a clear understanding that many people like a breakfast sarnie and so you can have bread or baps. There’s even a toaster to get your shade of brown just right.
The second thing I like are the prices. At £2.20 for a sausage or bacon bap and breakfast deals of £4.40 for an 8 item breakfast or £3.25 for 5 items I don’t think it’s bad at all. The brown sauce or ketchup is free. Most importantly the staff get a 15% discount. The prices are similarly reasonable in the Starbucks. Coffee franchise prices vary wildly across the country and here they have definitely opted for the bottom end of the range.
Do I like hospital food? Honestly, I think it’s OK. It wasn’t the best breakfast I have had but it was definitely OK and well priced. In a place that is, by definition, full of sad stories the setting is bright and clean and as near to good cheer as you will get.