IT is the debate that people across Southampton have been chewing over for weeks.

Since the Daily Echo revealed that hospital bosses were sending Burger King packing from Southampton General Hospital two weeks ago, hundreds of readers have had their say over whether it is the right decision.

Some have welcomed the move – even if it is merely symbolic that the fast-food giant is to go.

Others say the chain should stay because it offers better food than that available in the hospital’s Spice of Life cafe or patients’ meals.

The Daily Echo has been inundated with letters and comments over the issue – with many slating hospital grub and demanding the governing University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust reverse the decision not to renew its lease in 2016.

As reported by the Daily Echo, it was a choice made as part of the redevelopment of the hospital entrance that is meant to reflect a healthier setting.

Daily Echo: Southampton General Hospital, 2014

Southampton General Hospital

But while the debate has raged on over whether a fast-food outlet is appropriate in a healthy setting, hospital chiefs have remained quiet on the standard of their own catering – until now.

Bosses have leapt to the defence of food served to patients and visitors alike stating it meets top standards set by health bodies and has recently scored highly in an independent review.

A UHS spokesman said: “The trust, as with all NHS hospitals, is regularly assessed by a variety of independent bodies on all aspects of care, including the quality of patient food.

“In the most recent of these inspections, the trust scored highly on food quality (92 per cent) according to panel members from the national patient-led assessment team and fully compliant with all of the Care Quality Commission’s essential standards, which incorporate quality of food and drink.

“Anyone who is unhappy with the quality of food they receive should inform a member of our staff immediately so they can notify our catering service and try to resolve any problems with the individuals concerned directly.”

The trust outsources catering to healthcare support company Medirest, which also defended what they offer to patients.

And food offered in the hospital restaurant and other outlets is not the same as food prepared for patients.

A Medirest spokesman said: “With our patient catering service Steamplicity, we offer patients a choice of 28 main meals, six hot light options, six salads and seven sandwiches, enabling them to look at the menu and choose a different dish each day during their stay.

“Our steam-cooked meals are cooked from fresh in just a few minutes, allowing patients to choose their dish only hours before they eat.

“Offering Steamplicity also means that patients who are away from their beds during meal times for treatment or scans, can request their meal at any time once they get back to their bed. Special dietary requirements are catered for alongside the core Steamplicity service.”

He added: “As part of our ongoing commitment to health and wellbeing, in 2013 we introduced nutritional labelling across all of the meals we serve and also introduced ‘Know Your Food’ boards, which provide educational information around health, wellbeing and sustainability directly to our customers.”

Daily Echo:

An artist's impression of what the new frontage will look like

Meanwhile the trust has confirmed it will replace Burger King with another yet-to-be confirmed food outlet.

The trust have declined to reveal exact details of the redevelopment and which shops will stay or go.

Patient meals are “comprehensively assessed” for nutritional value by catering experts, matrons, dieticians and patients, are provided by the trust to inpatients throughout the duration of their stay, with the options available to them sometimes determined by clinical requirements.

A selection of letters the Daily Echo has received on the hospital food debate:

  • Sir – In the past five years I have been a patient in the General and food is not fit for swill. Breakfast is a slice of toast, butter, jam or cereal and a cup of tea – hardly the start for someone who is sick.

But I digress. I was again in hospital for five weeks and I was unable to eat any of the cooked meals. My brother had to cook me a dinner every day and bring it from the New Forest to be ready at 1.30pm and it was still warm by the time he got it to me.

May I say there were a lot of patients who lived on burgers from downstairs.

May I say it is the patients’ food which needs to be changed.

Someone ought to stand in the entrance of the hospital and ask patients what they think of the food.

I trained as a nurse in Southampton and have worked in many hospitals. It would take a cook with the highest qualifications to turn what the General dishes up into good food.

Name and address supplied

  • Sir – As a regular customer at the Spice of Life restaurant in Southampton General can I bring some reflection on how staff are treated?

Firstly the food is not cheap.

In fact it costs a sizeable proportion of one’s wages just to feed ourselves. The lower income staff must struggle a hell of a lot more if people like myself struggle.

Secondly there is no competitive alternative outlet to buy from. Many staff don’t have the option to bring food from home and have no safe place to store it so we feel rather trapped into buying from Medirest.

The restaurant used to sell healthy food but now has become a glorified sweet shop.

The drinks are expensive and sugary and there is always a queue for the water fountain due to the machine taking a minute to fill one cup.

Last of all – taking a walk through the restaurant reveals that around a quarter of those seated are now bringing their own food or drink in some small capacity.

Name and address supplied

  • Sir – I was pleased to hear that Burger King may finally be ousted from Southampton General Hospital, and I would welcome a vegetarian food outlet in its place.

Colin Hingston, Southampton