Difficult experiences

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Experiences

Birmingham City Hospital: 

"I was diagnosed with Crohns Disease and Ulcerative Colitis almost 10 years ago and have been an inpatient at NHS hospitals in Birmingham UK many times over the years as I suffer with inflammatory symptoms and have to be very careful about what I eat on a daily basis, especially in hospital. I have avoided processed food for years. My body doesn’t digest well when I’m having a flare up and absolutely not at all when I’m in relapse.

In hospital I find myself having to frustratingly compromise my diet by either waiting for home cooked food to be brought in, eating something I wouldn’t eat normally or going without as staff are either often too busy to support, don’t fully understand my dietary issues or simply don’t have the ability to offer anything suitable within the hospital. I always say to staff “I don’t eat meat” and usually they convey everything on the patient menu including the meat options; it’s horrendous not to mention offensive. Every time I say “I don’t have dairy” I can’t believe that most of the hospital dessert choices offered are dairy based cakes / puddings / custard / ice-cream and if offered fruit its usually a tired old looking apple or banana which isn’t appetising especially for those whose health is affected by food.

A lot of the healthier main choices on the hospital menu such as vegetables, baked potatoes / mash are often overcooked, limp and lifeless to the point where I doubt there’s any nutritional value left in them. For example:

 

Many hospital staff say that hospital food is not very palatable or enjoyable but say they are short on staff and money so it’s difficult for them to improve. There have been times when staff have showed increased care and have gone above and beyond to try and accommodate my dietary requirements to the point where one dietician even offered me vouchers for their public restaurant as she agreed that the patient menu wasn’t suitable. Sadly the restaurant menu wasn’t much better!

Staff often ask “can your family bring in food for you?” which I think is an unfair request. Isn’t it up to the hospital to honour their ‘duty of care’ with a patient from admission, treatment etc. and including a patient’s dietary requirements? When I don’t have access to family to bring in food or am admitted in the evening the only choice they offer is sandwiches and all of the sandwiches are made with either butter or margarine and I often can’t eat bread either so it can be very difficult.

It regularly feels like I’m being awkward or seen as a problem patient which in turn alienates me and I end up feeling like I’m a botheration and often choose to ‘make do’, not say anything and put up with dire food choices and frequent ‘off’ or dismissive attitudes of staff. It’s emotionally draining when in pain having to keep repeating the explanation of ‘I don’t eat meat!’ and at times I have just felt like discharging myself and cutting short my treatment as I felt misunderstood and in despair, not forgetting the fact that I’m in hospital, like many other patients, due to being ill.

My most recent experience as an in patient in 2019 saw me crying with frustration as I’d made a choice for the dinner menu after taking quite some time with a student nurse who was extremely helpful in assisting me in making the best choice I could from the limited vegan menu options and when the dinner came the catering staff asked me what I ordered I replied “you should know what I ordered as it was done on the digital iPad by the staff so why do you ask?” he said “the system is down so I don’t know what you ordered sorry!”. He then proceeded to offer me what he had left on his trolley which wasn’t suitable so I ended up not having anything to eat as they didn’t have any other option for me. Surely there must be a contingency plan in place when their system goes down and if not why? This is the 21st century and the hospital has numerous patients to cater for!

One day I had vegetable soup, when it came there was no list of the ingredients in it and all it said was ‘home made’ on a bit of scraggily cut printed off paper (see below) so I was instantly hesitant. When I queried what was in it and why the soup had no label listing the ingredients the catering staff said “that’s how it comes”! It left me wondering was this made in the hospital or someone’s home? I really wish this could be addressed with the catering staff. Better clear labelling.

On another occasion one morning I asked for soya / almond milk, the nurse said “we don’t stock soya milk; I will have to go to the shop and get some for you”. When the nurse came back 3-4 hours later with the milk she made me feel uncomfortable when she declared that she had to go out of her way to go to the shop to buy it for me as there’s no one else on the ward who has soya milk. I said “surely I can’t be the only patient in the hospital that has ever asked for soya milk?” she said it was unusual as not many patients request that as most drink dairy. I said that it shouldn’t be an odd request in this day and age as many people are now choosing non animal/dairy in their diets.

Fortijuce and Fortisip have been prescribed as part of my treatment. I request Fortijuce as Fortisip is milk based, but occasionally staff bring Fortisip even though I state I don’t have dairy! With some of the problems I’ve encountered I wonder and dread what would happen if I was unable to speak for whatever reason how would I defend myself in these establishments?

After years of talking and trying to explain what I can and can’t eat, I am thoroughly fed up of the multiple unfair experiences I’ve had with NHS staff about unsuitable hospital food choices. I sometimes wonder if the views of those who consume traditional diets or those who regularly prepare traditional and wider choice menus in public sector establishments are that vegans eat only 3 peas and a couple lettuce leaves / are awkward to accommodate / too costly to feed?

As a vegan Crohns sufferer I found that the choice of hospital food doesn’t offer a wide enough vegan variety, as a patient compromising in order to eat unfortunately this issue often causes stress and internal discomfort as the food is mostly unsuitable for Crohns symptoms. Though many hospital catering staff may consider their menus cuisine great (and I’m aware that their menus have widened over the years to include vegetarian, Halal, Asian, Caribbean and more), in my personal opinion there isn’t enough choice for vegans (or vegetarians for that matter) especially if food is one of the triggers that can irritate and exacerbate ones symptoms.

I wish something could be done to improve the quality of hospital food, widen vegan food choices and increase staff understanding, attitudes and empathy toward all patients who choose to be on a plant based diet in any NHS hospital. I hope and pray for positive change.

Bricknell Primary School:

"There is only fruit or jelly available for kids who don't eat egg or milk as pudding. The cook agreed to make a flapjack but I would have to provide the vegan spread. This is ongoing over four years of school meals."