Is it time the NHS had a cultural change on cultural foods?

No one can knock the NHS for the way they stepped up to the challenges of the past year. Their staff withstood the most intense health crisis of our lifetime, under incredible pressure, and they deserve our respect and admiration.

Which is why my charity, Bedside Kosher, is proud to work alongside NHS staff to help improve their approach to serving cultural foods to patients.

After all, when the NHS can offer full fresh lactose, sugar and meat free menus to patients, there is no reason that those who require cultural food requirements should be frozen out of a healthy hospital diet.

Jewish patients currently rely on a limited menu of two frozen vacuum-packed meals a day to sustain them through a hospital stay. This leaves patients with little variety in their diet, and limits their access to the kind of healthy, fresh and nutritious food that is integral to a good recovery from illness and injury.

The demand for Bedside Kosher’s services has been huge. Our ranks of volunteers now number in their hundreds, and we have prepared, cooked and delivered over thirty thousand fresh meals to hospital patients throughout London and beyond.

We are filling a huge gap that exists, because the NHS aren’t filling the bellies of people with cultural needs.

Many would say those thirty thousand meals are something to celebrate, but to me they were a clear message that we needed to expand our operation, and find ways to work even more closely with the NHS, to help them find a better approach to providing fresh food for cultural diets.

Partnering with the NHS.

Which is why I was delighted when we became an official partner of the Royal Free NHS Trust. All Jewish in-patients and their visitors at these hospitals will now receive three fresh kosher meals a day, traditional holiday meals, and of course drinks and snacks.

Our volunteers will also train catering staff and nurses, and provide them with guides, to ensure they understand the basics of a kosher diet.

I believe this is the start of a wider adjustment within the NHS, and how they approach cultural diets. With a little more effort and tenacity on our part, we want to gain the opportunity to partner with other NHS trusts, and bring their cultural menus into line with their standard food options.

It’s so important, especially in these pandemic times, that our elderly and vulnerable are able to eat familiar, culturally appropriate food, especially when relatives can’t visit, and familiar faces are in short supply. Without a good diet, they face a real risk of malnutrition, and failing health.

In Bedside Kosher’s short existence, we have already started to drive changes that will improve the lives, and recovery outlooks, of many people in our hospitals. And we will continue to do this until other NHS trusts have followed the lead set by the Royal Free. And who knows, that may be sooner than we dare to believe.