Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Marie Curie Stories: a day with the catering team at the Liverpool hospice

Blogging for Marie Curie Cancer CareA couple of weeks ago I was invited to visit the Marie Curie hospice in Liverpool. I went to meet the catering team to see for myself how they cater for their patients. It's all part of a national campaign to highlight the brilliant work done by the Marie Curie across the country, and it's a subject very close to my heart.

Head chef Mike Carew
When I arrived at the hospice I was introduced to head chef, Mike Carew, who looks after a team of chefs and kitchen staff, including several volunteers.

Mike has worked at the hospice for over 20 years and it was clear that he not only loved his job, but cared passionately about the welfare of the patients.

He told me how important it was to cater for the individual patient as getting the right nourishment and enjoyment from the food is all part of their quality of life - a phrase I heard several times during my visit.

He recalled a time when a patient was refusing to eat so Mike made a visit to the ward to talk to him. After chatting for a while he persuaded him to have a strawberry milkshake for his lunch. The next day the man asked for a milkshake again and gradually, over a couple of weeks, he started to eat more food until he was eating a full meal (but still with a milkshake!) When it was time for the patient to go home Mike invited his wife into the kitchen so they could show her how to make the milkshake just the way he liked it.

Mike introduced me to chef Michelle who explained that we'd be going up to the wards to talk to each patient about the day's menu and help them choose a lunch and dinner.
Chef Michelle 

10am starting the ward rounds


It was time for me to accompany Michelle on her ward rounds. This is the time when she gets to meet each one of the 30 patients and talk them through the menu choices for the day.

On our way up to the wards, Michelle talked about the importance of getting to know each patient's likes and dislikes and using the right body language and tone of voice. But Michelle has such a lovely, warm personality it was no surprise that the patients loved her.

It's her job to make sure each patient chooses a lunch and dinner from the menu, and it was fascinating to watch her do it by means of humour and gentle persuasion. She clearly had the patients' best interests at heart and gave them a bit of encouragement if they weren't sure what to choose or offered alternatives if none of the choices appealed.  One of the patients didn't eat red meat and didn't fancy the chicken dish so Michelle tempted him with a vegetable stir-fry which was freshly prepared for him as it wasn't on the menu.

The two wards were less clinical than a hospital with some personal touches around. One lady had balloons and bouquets of flowers next to her bed, leftover from her birthday the previous day. She told me the kitchen staff had surprised her with a birthday cake and had made sure her day was special.

Another was having her hair done by a stylist when we arrived and showed me the fabulous view of Liverpool from her bedroom window.

All of the patients spoke very highly of the standard of food  - "Better than a restaurant" - and the staff "They're all lovely" and "They can't do enough for you."

11am  The food is prepared


There are two kitchens, one for hot food (main meals) and the other for cold (sandwiches, salads, desserts, etc).  They have to cater for the hospice's 30 in-patients, as well as 10 patients who attend a day therapy unit, various day support groups and the staff restaurant and all of the food is freshly made on the day.

When Michelle gets back from her ward rounds she discusses the patients' menu choices with chef Sammy who prepares the hot meals.

Michelle and Sammy discuss the patients' choices

As soon as Sammy knows the numbers required he gets cracking because they all have to ready to go up to the wards at 12 noon.  Having only one hour to prepare that many meals would bring me out in a cold sweat but Sammy takes it in his stride.  30 Portuguese chicken dishes, 20 pork fillets and a couple of stir-fry meals? No problem!

Sammy starts preparing the hot meals

Sponge puddings waiting for custard or cream

12 noon Lunch is served


The meals have to be ready for the patients and staff, and are taken up to the wards on trolleys. Each patient might have a slight variation to their meal (cream instead of custard; tomato soup instead of minestrone) so notes are attached to dishes to make sure they get to the right person. 

This is a finely honed team at work, nothing is left to chance and everyone knows their role. 

They are all under tight time pressures and keep to strict hygiene standards at all times - but it's all done with good humour and a real team spirit.

And, as far as I know, everyone enjoyed their food!
The A Team: Sammy, Michelle, Andy the restaurant manager and Mike

Mike with volunteer Elsie
Marie Curie hospices rely on the support of volunteers, and at the Liverpool hospice I met kitchen volunteer Elsie. Elsie had worked in the kitchen for many years before retiring, but soon came back as a volunteer.

She was obviously an important member of the team and told me how much she enjoyed working with the rest of the kitchen staff.

The whole place was imbued with a happy, positive atmosphere, people were friendly and helpful and the patients were happy and well cared for.

But it was the personal touches - the birthday cake, the stir-fry, the milkshake - that made the difference and made me realise how amazing the catering staff are. Nothing seemed to be too much trouble for the patients.

Before my visit I'd been a bit apprehensive about what to expect  (I thought I'd be sobbing all day long)  but I can honestly say it was a very enjoyable experience. In fact I didn't think I would use this word, but the word that best describes it is uplifting.

Thank you to everyone who made me so welcome at Marie Cure Liverpool, it was a real pleasure to spend some time with you.

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Join #MarieCurieStories today as we give you the chance to walk in the shoes of nurses, patients and carers and experience a day in the life of Marie Curie.

Marie Curie has teamed up with six bloggers who have visited Marie Curie hospices across the UK. Follow #MarieCurieStories on Twitter and Facebook and at www.mariecurie.org.uk/mariecuriestories.

Marie Curie Nurses provide free end-of-life care to people with terminal illnesses in their own homes, or in Marie Curie Hospices.