HSE denies junk food allegations

Fri, Mar 8, 2013, 00:00

The head of the Health Service Executive has rejected claims that hospital patients are being fed a diet of junk food.

Tony O’Brien, director-designate of the HSE, said it was not unreasonable for patients to have the occasional “battered sausage or cod fillet” when in hospital.

Leaked tender documents showed this week the HSE is ordering 90 tonnes of frozen chips, 62,000 sausage rolls and other processed foods over the next four years. Mr O’Brien told the Oireachtas health committee yesterday reports had made “something of a meal” of the issue.

Only 3 per cent of the HSE’s €32 million annual spending on food went on processed items such as pizza, sausage rolls and burgers, he said.Some 72 per cent was spent on fresh food such as meat, bread and dairy products, while 20 per cent went on dry goods such as cereals and coffee and 7 per cent on frozen food.

He said the tender related only to the west and was for food for staff and visitors as well as patients. The amount of food involved – equivalent to 30 burgers and 18 frozen pizzas a day – was small.

The HSE wanted people to minimise their consumption of processed food but it also had to give people a degree of choice and an ability to make decisions for themselves. Neither did it want to say to people who were with the HSE for long periods that they would never again eat some of the foods they had always eaten.

The committee also heard that the health service would be left with a €150 million hole in its budget if the Croke Park II deal was not approved by public sector unions.

Mr O’Brien said his budget was drawn up in the expectation of making half-year savings of €150 million from the agreement, although this money had not been allocated to any one sector.


Independent Senator John Crown criticised the “appalling” state of rehabilitation services. Ireland had 60 per cent of the number of consultants in the sector in the UK and 10 per cent of the number employed in France, he said.

Patients with life-devastating injuries were spending six months waiting for neuro rehab, blocking beds that could be used for other services.

HSE director of clinical programmes Dr Áine Carroll said five additional consultant posts in rehabilitation medicine had been approved.