Thursday, April 11, 2013

Horsing around with hospital food

News today that the Minister In Charge Of Dismantling The Health System, Tony Ryall, has confirmed that plans are afoot to close hospital kitchens and centralise food preparation operations. This has been proposed by Health Benefits Limited, an organisation set up by the government to, um, reduce duplication and administration costs. The move will supposedly save $175 million over 15 years - about $11.5 million per year. Chump change in a health bill totalling billions per year. So why bother?

One, this is a Minister and government firmly wedded to the idea that there is no such thing as a public service that can't be done better by the private sector. And accordingly, the service is to be contracted out. Two, any chump change counts as the government scrabbles around like a student looking for bus fare under the bed as it tries to get the books back into the black by 2015. It does seem like they're prepared to sacrifice quite a lot to achieve this, and one wonders if they really will destroy the economy in order to save it.

But back to the hospital meals: savings will come from cutting staff in the main, and signing a 15 year corporate welfare chit with a private provider to make the meals in Christchurch or Auckland. They will then be packaged and chilled like airline meals and transported to their destinations whereupon one hopes they will be reheated for grateful hospital patients. The company pencilled in to do this is a UK outfit called Compass Group. Compass' preferred method of cutting costs is adulterating food, and they were recently caught out in the horsemeat scandal in Europe.

Hospital meals are often personalised, and centralisation would mean that special orders would be sent to the preparer, then need to be sent to the correct destination, and then make it to the right patient. Much of the information exchange required would be done by computer.
Hospital meals: the best reason to stay healthy
So let's get this straight: orders sent by email over a privacy averse New Zealand government computer system; prepared and packaged by minimum wage workers who may or may not give a toss; freighted by truck drivers on speed; the whole shebang run by a company with the ethics of Geno on a football field; and all to save about $11 million per year.

What could go wrong?