HEALTH chiefs are seeking assurances about the safety and nutrition of food served in Herefordshire hospitals.

Their move follows a damning documentary on Channel 4 alleging serious breaches of hygiene rules by staff producing the food in a factory in South Wales.

Hospital spokesmen say they are 'bound to be concerned' about the contents of the Dispatches programme, broadcast last week.

It centred on Tillery Valley Foods in Blaenau, Gwent, which deals with more than 80 hospitals, produces 25 million meals annually and claims not to have had a single incidence of food poisoning in 20 years.

The company is owned by Sodexho, a partner in Mercia Healthcare, the PFI consortium which built and cares for Hereford's new hospital.

The hospital gets up to 260 hot meals a day from Tillery Valley Foods in cook chill form. They are then heated up and distributed to wards.

The Stonebow unit in Hereford and hospitals in Ross-on-Wye, Leominster and Bromyard, all run by Herefordshire Primary Care Trust, receive meals from the same source. David Rose, chief executive of Hereford Hospitals Trust, said there was a need to reassure patients, staff and visitors to the County Hospital.

Yesterday (Wednesday), with Helen Blanchard, the trust's director of nursing and quality, he was at the food-producing factory to inspect the way meals were prepared.

He was also seeking assurances from the management there about the nutrition content of the food and what action was being taken to ensure there were no breaches of hygiene regulations.

Mr Rose said there had been no complaints or cases of food poisoning at the Hereford hospital related to the meals.

But he disclosed that the trust was in separate and unrelated talks with Sodexho and Tillery Valley Foods about the quality of food served.

Feedback from patients and an independent report following a visit by the Commission for Health Improvement indicated the quality, taste and presentation could be better.

Mr Rose pointed out that food served in the hospital's restaurants was good.

Herefordshire Primary Care Trust chief executive Paul Bates also expressed concern about the programme and said reassurances were being sought immediately.

But he pointed out that recent patient surveys had indicated a good level of satisfaction about the food served in PCT hospitals.

In a common approach with the hospital trust, the PCT would be asking Tillery Valley Foods to investigate allegations made in the programme.

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council said the company had operated in the area for many years and was considered to be of a good standard.

At the last full inspection by environmental health officers last August, it had achieved the highest 'confidence in management' score.

Tillery Valley Foods is an accredited supplier to the NHS whose purchasing authority is said to carry out rigorous audit procedures.