Page last updated at 10:39 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 11:39 UK

Life in a hospital 'engine room'

One Show in Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Baby Esther's first glimpse of the world
Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach but so does the NHS, as The One Show's Justin Rowlatt discovered.

The baby drew in an uncertain breath.

Her eyes were still sticky and puffed but she squeezed them closed.

There was a momentary pause while she gathered her strength, then she began to wail.

It was hesitant and wavering at first but she quickly grew in confidence.

Lung bursting

Pretty soon she was filling the delivery room with her full-lunged cry.

Mother Julie and father Nigel exchanged a quick glance and smiled.

Baby Esther Wilkinson had arrived.

The One Show team had the extraordinary privilege of being present as Esther entered the world after the programme was invited to follow three days in the life of Blackpool Victoria Hospital for a series of films celebrating the 60th birthday of National Health Service.

In our three days on the wards we experienced some of the incredible range of care the modern NHS offers.

High-tech kit

As well as witnessing baby Esther's birth we followed patients through their pioneering heart surgery, we saw the sophisticated and delicate machines that keep premature babies alive, looked at some of the challenges of caring for older people and watched as a robot sorted through the huge range of drugs the hospital uses each day.

The One Show at Blackpool Victoria Hospital
A robot now sorts out the drugs in the pharmacy

It was very impressive, but I only got a sense of the sheer scale of what the Victoria Hospital does daily, indeed what the NHS does, when we were led down into the steam and clamour of the hospital kitchens

The kitchen is in many ways the engine that drives the hospital.

Nobody is going to get better without food and here at the Victoria they turn out 3,500 meals a day for patients and staff, seven days a week.

The premature baby unit and the operating theatres are packed full of the latest hi-tech equipment and would be unrecognisable to a doctor from 1948 but down in the kitchens little appears to have changed.

Patient choice

Perhaps the biggest difference, is the sheer range of different meals a modern NHS hospital cooks.

Back in 1948 the kitchens would turn out one dish for each meal.

If you did not like what was on offer, tough.

Patients were expected to eat what they were given or go hungry.

Now in the kitchens, just as elsewhere in the NHS, the watchword is choice, patient choice.

Scrub up

I was told to get my kitchen whites on and wash my hands.

Head chef Darren Cadwell made me clean them twice because he was not happy with my technique first time round.

Then I was shown the lunch menu. It was impressive, with a choice of two starters, five main courses, four side orders and two deserts.

One Show in Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Caring for the elderly is a major challenge

Preparing all these different options meant there was no shortage of work for me.

Two minutes into my shift and Darren led me to a giant steam heated cooking pot and set me to work stirring three or four gallons of a rich pasta sauce.

Minutes later the alarm went off on one of the giant ovens and I was unloading vast trays of sizzling beef pies, cutting through the crisp crust to divide them into individual portions.

What seemed like a moment later and Darren had me chopping a huge pile of veg.

Then I was bustled onto the serving line.

If we get one order wrong, if we put a low fat spread on the tray instead of butter, that could ruin a meal for a patient
Darren Cadwell, head chef Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Serving is the busiest time for the kitchen staff.

Every single one of those 3,500 meals has to leave the kitchen exactly as requested by the patient.

"Food means a lot when you're stuck in a hospital bed," Darren told me.

"If we get one order wrong, if we put a low fat spread on the tray instead of butter, that could ruin a meal for a patient.

"Likely as not they'll put in a complaint," he said ruefully.

Once my hour on the line was up I was exhausted and ready for lunch.

So is the food any good?

The One Show at Blackpool Victoria Hospital
The kitchen is the hospital's engine room

Well put it this way, I could not decide between the beef pie and the chicken in cream sauce, so I had both.

Blackpool Victoria Hospital's food is not about to win any Michelin stars but it is good hearty fare and just the ticket after a hard morning's work.

Big clean

And crucially most of the patients I spoke to seemed to like it too.

Down in the canteen I spooned the last mouthful of bread and butter pudding with custard in my mouth and settled back in my chair.

I was about to reach for my coffee when the producer, Tom, told me we had to get moving. He had lined up for me to spend the afternoon helping clean one of the wards.

I thought the kitchens were tough, but let me tell you, keeping a hospital clean is even tougher.

Justin Rowlatt's films on the NHS at 60 will be broadcast on BBC One's The One Show, 1900 BST, Monday 30 June 2008, Tuesday and Wednesday.

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