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Our stories

Changing plate – why hospital food should reflect the cultural diversity of patients

Monday 25 March 2024

On Thursday 15 February, 2024, Vicki Barrington, a Dietitian at Western Health (WH), was awarded the Medirest Support Services Improvement Grant.

Sponsored by Medirest, the Western Health Foundation, alongside Adjunct Professor Russell Harrison, CEO of Western Health, presented the $20,000 grant to Vicki, whose project aims to give culturally diverse patients a ‘taste of home’.

“When we’re sick, we feel like comfort food, something we’re familiar with” Vicki says. “Food is treatment, and providing culturally diverse and delicious meals from day one can be seen as an early intervention treatment for malnutrition, reducing a patients length of stay and improving outcomes.

"Best care is patient centred, and by listening to our communities’ stories we hear their powerful insights about what’s important to them when they are sick"

she explains.

At most public hospitals, including WH, menus are heavily Anglo-European influenced, with other cultural groups represented by generic dishes that are rarely authentic.

Western Health’s largest culturally diverse patient groups speak Greek, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Arabic, and the aim of this project is that our menu reflect this in its culinary diversity.

“Hospital food unfortunately has a bad reputation… I am passionate about changing this reputation,” says Vicki, who wants to make a lasting impact on hospital food for culturally diverse patient populations. Its apparent that some patients avoid eating all their food and a significant portion of patients have expressed that their meals were not a positive experience.

Vicki has served on the Steering Committee of the Victorian Government to set the standards for the Nutrition and quality food standards for adults in Victorian public hospitals and residential aged care services. She is at the cutting edge of clinical nutrition in Australia, having spent most of her career working in the acute health sector, and this initiative is a first in a food-first approach to improve food and nutrition for our culturally diverse inpatients hospital nutrition.

WH, with Vicki’s help, is now in the unique position to work alongside our incredible team at Western Health Central Production Kitchen (CPK) in Altona, to identify and add to the menu, meals that our patients want to eat as part of their recovery.

Suzy Hudson, Executive Director of Healthcare at Compass Group Australia, who presented on the day, said “Compass Group Australia is a proud partner of the Plenary Health Consortia working with Western Health to deliver state of the art healthcare, infrastructure and non-clinical services to the community.

“Vicki’s project sits at the heart of Compass Group’s purpose,” she continued, “to serve a better future by enriching people, communities and our planet through recognising that everyone should be seen and nourished as a whole person.”

At Western Health we recognise that nutrition plays a crucial role when it comes to recovery. It is therefore critical that our patients look forward to and enjoy eating the food they are given in hospital. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of Vicki’s research and the impact it has for patients.

Thank you to our generous corporate sponsor for their support of this initiative: