NHS Tayside is conducting a major inquiry into a serious shortfall in takings in the staff canteens in Ninewells Hospital that could, if not tackled, run to £60,000 this year.
Evidence has emerged of a large amount of food and drinks not being paid for in the restaurants on levels five and nine, which are also open to patients and visitors.
One possible explanation for the deficit is theft, with employees helping themselves to meals and snacks at the Dundee hospital over a long period of time and not handing over money.
The way this issue was raised by management provoked outrage with 150 catering workers last week. They left meetings believing more than half of them were being accused of systematic pilfering.
The workers rejected the allegation and complained to management, who later apologised about ”how these issues were raised.”
Evidence has, however, surfaced of catering staff receiving free soup and rolls. The practice was regarded as a perk but has now been stopped.
Another possible explanation could be catering staff dishing out bigger portions than they are meant to.
Trays of cooked meals are costed on the number of portions they are calculated to contain and, if bigger helpings are spooned on to plates than the chef intended but are not fully charged for, the takings will be down.
Whatever the reasons, the cost of producing the meals and drinks at the Ninwells canteens is not being recouped at the tills.
The deficit is understood to be in five figures at present and, if the problem is not addressed, it could soar to as much as £60,000 this year.
The kitchen prepares around 5000 meals a day and the possibilty that the produce is being stolen in-house, perhaps on a large scale, provoked a furious response from staff.
One worker, who asked for his details not to be disclosed, said: ”It was being suggested that many of us are stealing from the kitchens, which is outrageous. We are furious about this insult.
”The meetings should have been handled far better. The staff work very hard, and I think fairly, to deliver a good service.
The staff member added: ”It’s out of order to accuse more than half of us of theft.”
He admitted that catering staff have been receiving free bowls of soup and rolls and said they regarded this as a cheap perk rather than one of the reasons for the financial shortfall. The practice has been stopped.
NHS management said the probe will look into all possible reasons for the shortfall from what they referred to as ”stock shrinkage.”
NHS Tayside chief executive Gerry Marr said: ”There are issues which have been identified around policies and procedures in the catering department and we will seek to discuss and address these with staff-side colleagues.
”It was not our intention to suggest that there is systematic theft in NHS Tayside by members of staff and we have issued an apology to catering staff about how these issues were raised.”
NHS Tayside operations director Ken Armstrong wrote to catering staff, saying that following a meeting with representatives of the trade union Unison, he apologised to catering staff for some issues which were raised at the meeting.
Further meetings between management and staff side colleagues will take place as a matter of urgency, he added.
No comment was available from Jenny Alexander, Unison representative at Ninewells.
The tills shortage is written off as a loss and, although it does not directly affect spending on patient care, it does have a bearing on the overall financial performance of NHS Tayside.