Mater Health offers ‘room service’ style meals at South Brisbane hospitals

Mater Group in Queensland has turned the traditional foodservice for hospitals model on its head, removing the need for set mealtimes and instead introducing a food delivery model akin to hotel style room service. We spoke to Sally McCray, Mater Group’s Director of Nutrition and Dietetics to find out more.


Mater Group has seven hospitals in Southeast Queensland, five of which are located in South Brisbane, catering to both public and private patients across a broad demographic mix. “We’re quite unique in that regard,” Sally points out. “We have a very busy maternity hospital, plus adult public and private patient facilities and private paediatric hospital.”

Since introducing the room service menu into its South Brisbane adult private facility in 2013, Mater has since rolled it out in its newest adult facility at Springfield in 2015 and most recently into all of its remaining South Brisbane facilities, both public and private. “We were the first in Australia to put the room service delivery model into a hospital and now we’re the first to put it into both public and private facilities,” Sally says.

Previously the hospitals had operated with the traditional ‘foodservice in healthcare’ model – orders were taken up to 24 hours in advance, using a printed paper menu distributed to patients, who filled it in and returned it.

“We were always a cook–fresh site, but we took orders in advance, and it was a manual, labour-intensive system with meals served at set mealtimes,” Sally recalls. “The initial drivers for us to look at changing were predominantly patient satisfaction as well as plate and general waste. Plate waste of 30-40 per cent is fairly common in a hospital setting and ours was sitting at about 30. There’s also significant production waste associated with meal forecasting. When orders for meals are taken 24 hours in advance, many therapeutic diet and clinical changes for patients can occur between meal ordering and delivery and this can lead to significant waste as replacement meals then need to be produced. Also patients might not be in bed when meals are delivered, which means they miss meals and replacement meals are then required, and so on.”

Sally and her clinical team recognised that improvements could be made – “we had concerns about patients’ nutritional intake when they missed meals, and that they might not be eating due to restricted meal times. A recent Australasian Nutrition Care Day Survey study published in Clinical Nutrition found that one in five well- nourished patients and one in three malnourished patients in hospital eat less than 25 per cent of the meals presented to them, which means they’re not getting good nutrition. We know that on average 30 per cent of hospital patients are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. So these are significant concerns when recovering from illness, surgical procedures or other medical treatments.”

The room service model which Mater has implemented is exactly as the name suggests – hotel style food delivered to the patient’s room at their request. This required the hospital kitchen to be refitted to a more commercial, hotel style kitchen as opposed to the traditional hospital style with a plating line, along with a redesign of the menu. “Instead of different menus for each diet we now have one a la carte restaurant style menu. We have approximately 80 different diets at Mater and we’ve integrated 97 per cent of these onto the one menu,” Sally tells us.

“Patients no longer have set meal times – instead they order when they’re ready to eat by phoning our call centre. We use a very sophisticated menu management system so that when they phone our call centre, our staff can see what is and isn’t compliant with their individual diet.

A dietitian has coded all the ingredients into our system database so that the call centre can ensure that a patient’s order is suitable to their specific diet. The order then goes through to the kitchen where it’s cooked fresh and delivered within 45 minutes.”

The patient benefits are obvious – they can now choose to eat whenever they wish, and the new menu allows them the flexibility to tailor meals as desired.

“This cook on demand model also allows items to be put on the menu that you wouldn’t normally be able to include in a bulk food production model,” Sally explains. “So it means a greater variety and more contemporary choices.”

The backend work required to implement the new model included much time spent on designing the menu to integrate all diets, with a foodservice dietitian and clinical dietitians working closely with the executive chef. Time was also spent educating hospital staff about the flow-on effects of the model change: “For example speech pathologists who would normally do swallow tests at set mealtimes now engage more with patients to determine appropriate times to do these. Physiotherapists consult and liaise with the patient to organise treatment schedules around when a patient may choose to eat. It’s made all areas of the hospital more patient-centric and promotes greater patient engagement and focus on nutrition.” Sally says. ”In addition to the obvious improvements in patient satisfaction, we have also seen significant reductions in plate waste, food costs and, possibly most importantly, improvements in patients’ nutritional intake.”

“Having no set mealtimes has not been done before in Australian hospitals so it’s a huge shift,” Sally emphasises. “Australian hospitals still have set mealtimes and this turns that model completely on its head. It’s a model that is quite popular in the US, where it’s estimated that about 40 to 50 per cent of hospitals may use a version of room service, but we were the first ones in Australia to adopt it and it’s now getting a lot of attention, with other private hospitals and now public hospitals also considering its potential benefits.”