The NHS at 70: How a small army of chefs cook up 2,500 meals a day at Blackpool Victoria Hospital
The lights flicker on at 5.30am every morning as the head chef arrives for work.
Ovens are switched on as the silence of night is shattered, with a small army of chefs arriving half an hour later, followed by porters and cleaners at 7am.
Around 2,500 meals are served over the following 12 hours, though the five-star kitchen will not fall quiet again until the cleaners knock off at 8pm, after all the plates are cleaned and sterilised.
And the next day, it all starts again.
Behind the hive of activity in A&E, aside from the care given on the wards, the unsung catering heroes of Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s kitchens strive behind the scenes to ensure patients are delivered fresh meals three times a day.
Breakfast, dinner, and tea, all cooked from scratch, by hand, and served up to the poorly, recuperating NHS patients whose bodies need proper grub to recover.
And if serving thousands of meals every day wasn’t enough, the kitchens have been handed the top food hygiene rating every year since they were introduced – recently given their eighth.
Praising the 65 kitchen staff, many of whom work part-time, manager Darren Cadwell said: “I wouldn’t swap my brigade of staff for anybody. We have to supply three meals a day, so we have three targets to aim for every single day.
“Everything is home cooked. I don’t believe in frozen or prepared meals. We like to keep it as close to what my granny used to make.
“It’s a big challenge. Every day I like my kitchen nice and clean.
“I welcome anybody to walk in at any time and I feel confident it’s the best in the north west. That’s how passionate I am about it. Even on my days off I come in.”
The hospital is one of the first in the north west to introduce electronic meal ordering, with patients asked to choose their preferred meal options on an iPad.
Whereas paper ordering meant wasted food, the new system means choices can be altered, with dishes diverted to the ward a patient has moved to, or even cancelled if they are discharged, up to 15 minutes before it is due to arrive.
The kitchens work on a bi-weekly menu, so those facing a lengthy stay aren’t fed the same meals repeatedly, and feedback is used to make sure popular choices are kept, and the less popular replaced.
One particular favourite currently is the minced beef and onion pie.
Yvonne Widdows, the hospital’s senior site services manager, said: “Lots of hospitals are moving away from homemade meals because of costs. Here we are very proud we have been able to keep that within our budget, and we will fight to keep that.
“We pride ourselves in providing wholesome, tasty and nutritious meals in a clean and safe environment.”