James Martin: ‘We need to put change into the NHS’

James Martin swaps haute cuisine for hospital food and tells TV Times magazine how he hopes to cure Scarborough Hospital of grotty grub in his BBC1 daytime series, James Martin: Operation Hospital Food (from Monday)…

Why is the subject of hospital food so close to your heart?

“I see food as a medicine. It’s an essential part of the healing process. I think everyone’s got a story to tell when it comes to hospital food.

“Watching my grandmother dying in hospital was heart-wrenching. Here was someone who cooked every day, who taught me how to cook and was the most amazing influence on my life – and I saw her practically starve because of the terrible food. They say malnutrition is a big killer in the NHS and I can understand it. Why would you want to eat that?”

You went to Scarborough Hospital and met catering manager Pat Bell…

“Pat had a job to do and you have to understand her responsibilities and what she has to put up with. I was in her corner – even if she didn’t always realise it! When you have people running everything the same way for 20 years, someone coming in and saying they want to change it isn’t going to go down well.”

Oh dear! Was it hard financially, too?

“It’s really hard in hospital. You’ve immediately got a noose around your neck because of money – this is public money and you have to justify every bit. Pat and her team were achieving the best they could with what they had, but you have to give chefs decent ingredients to cook what they want.”

What did you learn from your experience of being at Scarborough General?

“I came away thinking that the NHS is the greatest thing we’ve got, but I don’t know how long it’s going to last. But I think the only way we can make a change is to get in there and have a go.”

“I’ll definitely keep supporting Scarborough General because they are doing a great thing. It’s brave. And they’re doing something that isn’t often seen in hospitals – they’re making a difference.”