Staggering Rs. 1 bn allocated per annum but the sick fed with poor food

Contractors bribe employees, make a big kill


Amidst reports of a disruption in the supply of meals to in-house patients in certain government hospitals due to bungling of the tender process, a drastic drop in the quality of the food served has caused widespread concern in health circles, The Sunday Island learns.

With the Health Ministry allocating a whopping one billion rupees annually to supply meals to patients and minor staff, winning a successful bid is described as a "goldmine". But political patronage plays a dominant role in the process resulting in potential suppliers capable of doing a better job being elbowed out, industry sources asserted.

Asked for comment on the tender procedure, a Health Ministry official said, "There are 47 hospitals under the jurisdiction of the central government and fresh bids are called for the supply of meals on a rotational basis – that’s as and when tenders have to be individually renewed".

"In most government hospitals, the sick are fed poor food below the targeted nutritional value", medical officials who asked not to be identified said. "This is common knowledge".

Each patient has to be given an 80 gram piece of fish but what is dished out weighs only 20 grams, they complained. "Inmates on a strict diet are medically advised to be served with carrots and cabbage apart from fish, meat or eggs as part of the meal, but more often they are instead given wattakka (pumpkin) and bandakka (ladies fingers)".

The fish supplied comprises cheap, virtually inedible varieties which, if given to the healthy would make them also sick, the officials noted. "Suppliers make a big kill this way".

"That is right, there have been complaints of poor food being dished out to patients", the Ministry official conceded. "The tenders are awarded under rigid guidelines which have to be adhered to".

For example, eggs served should be of a standard size and a plantain at least three inches long, he explained. "Another condition is that lunch should be ready by 11 am".

He said the director or his deputy of every government hospital should check on the quality of the food served to patients at least once a day. In addition, there are full-time food supervisors whose responsibility is to sample the meals and grant approval if they are satisfied with the quality and hygienic preparation.

A General Hospital has six food supervisors under the regular cadre, he said. "They are held responsible if the meals are found to be substandard".

Title; MEALS/29

Asked how contractors get away serving low quality, unpalatable food, the official replied, "The problem is that some supervisors are bought over".

On a recent surprise inspection of the kitchen of the Anuradhapura General Hospital, the cooked meals were found to be of an unbelievably low standard. A stock of half rotten fruits, brought to be served to patients, was also discovered. There was watery yoghurt brought hours ago on a table, he noted. "They were ordered to be discarded".

The supervisor on duty was taken to task, but with contractors minting money on supplying meals to hospitals willing to oil the palms of corrupt employees, it is a difficult proposition to make a change in the short-term, he said.

Asked about the reported disruption of meals to patients in certain hospitals, the official said he was unaware of any major issue on that score as suppliers are, under the terms and conditions of their contract, bound to serve food until the new contractor takes charge, in case there is a change.

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