Pre-packed salads on the menu as some patients offered no choice over food
Cork University Hospital chef Abina Forde said head chefs, catering managers and patient supervisors kept patients fed yesterday as staff took to the picket lines.
But the mother of two (52), who looks after those with special dietary requirements, said they were only offered one menu choice rather than the usual two or three.
She also heard that pre-prepared sandwiches and salads were being brought in as the support staff workforce walked out.
The chef, who is originally from England, said she would get an extra €3,500 a year if she received the increases due to her under a job evaluation scheme.
The pay scale for chefs ranges from €24,500 to €37,500 and she works shifts from 7am to 3.20pm and 10.30am to 7pm. She has worked there for 29 years.
"The increase would make a big difference to me," she said.
"My daughter just finished school two years ago and is working part-time.
"My son is in secondary school and all of us have education fees and mortgages and bills to pay like everybody else.
"We have been ignored for so long we felt a strike is the only solution, so people will listen to us and take notice.
"We would hope there would be last-minute talks with the Government, because none of us wants to be on strike."
As well as diabetics and those living on gluten-free diets, she also caters for those with ethnic food requirements.
"The HSE assessed us and we were told we should be aligned with other skilled craft workers and we were going to move onto a new pay scale, but unfortunately the Department of Finance was unwilling to accept this," she said. "We are very skilled and it takes three years to obtain the qualification needed to be taken on."
She said the hospital has grown enormously since she started and the number of patients has doubled.
"We provide for the main hospital, cardiac, maternity and the new children's ward," she said.
"There are only 27 chefs working here. There are 12 on in a day providing 800 meals to patients three times a day at capacity.
"I provide fresh food separately to the main kitchen to avoid cross-contamination and send it on a conveyor belt for particular patients.
"There is pressure getting the dishes done in the timescale I'm given and I would love to have another person to help me. That would be tremendous. The patient numbers are increasing all the time."