The health secretary recently announced a beacons of excellence scheme which invites the NHS to nominate good practice so that it can be spread.

Lest nutrition is overlooked, may we suggest a parallel microwaves of excellence scheme.

A microwave of excellence is one situated in a ward kitchen which has a notice on it: 'This is for the use of patients, visitors and staff on behalf of patients, and for use of staff when not needed by patients.'

Such microwaves shine from the towers of St Thomas' Hospital in central London. They follow the principle that 'a little bit of what you fancy...' - no doubt helping many people towards recovery and ensuring that visitors can contribute with favourite wholesome food.

They are probably also available in some other hospitals. Non-excellent microwaves are often also in ward kitchens, but have a notice on them: 'Only to be used by staff.'

Presumably these are being preserved in near mint condition for museums as staff rarely have time to help.

The proffered justification for the restriction is that patients and visitors are less skilled users of the microwaves than staff and may poison the patients.

Given poor standards of nutrition in hospitals - one detailed study showed that patients generally received only 40 per cent of the daily nutrition they need, dropping to 30 per cent on the older people's wards - one would have thought the health service would have welcomed help.

Let us aim for microwaves of excellence throughout the NHS. This simple measure would be an empowering boon to service user and visitor involvement in the NHS.

Jenny Stiles


The Relatives Association

London WC1