Hospital's cook gets meals ready before she joins picket
Hospital cook Joan Costelloe was up before dawn preparing special meals for elderly patients before joining her colleagues on the picket line at 8am yesterday.
She has worked in University Hospital Limerick's catering departing for the last 23 years and made sure her patients with special dietary needs didn't go hungry during the strike by 10,000 hospital support staff.
"I'm up since 4am to get in here to feed those patients," she said while on the picket line.
"The (special meals) list I got this morning included renal/dialysis, coeliacs, low fats, dairy-free, and then you have the purées and soft meals as well," she explained.
"All in all, I suppose I did, maybe, about 40 dinners and salads this morning, to the best of my ability."
Ms Costelloe prepares puréed meals for patients who have difficulty swallowing.
"This morning, I went into the hospital at 5.30am to (prepare) those special diets for those patients.
"It's a dangerous duty - you can't have a little piece of food, because they could choke," she added.
But she said kitchen working conditions are "hectic".
"We've taken on an awful lot of work in the last couple of years and we are not recognised for what we are doing."
Calling for the increased pay she says she was promised by the Government in 2015, Ms Costelloe said she should be rewarded for "a very responsible job".
"All patients in the hospital, when you are in the kitchen, when you're cooking meals, their lives are in your hands, because you have to be very careful what you are (serving) up to them," she said.
"We think it's important work, and that's why we want it to be recognised."
A spokesman for UHL said that due to "limited catering services", senior managers at the hospital were helping to serve meals to patients.
"Regrettably many patients will be served soup/sandwiches/salads rather than a full meal service. Special arrangements are in place for patients with specific dietary requirements," he added.