A nurse from Biggleswade who went into hospital for treatment says she went hungry after staff repeatedly misunderstood her vegan dietary requirements.

The Comet: Lister Hospital.Lister Hospital. (Image: Danny Loo Photography 2017)

Bernadette Green has filed a complaint with the East and North Herts NHS Trust, which runs Stevenage’s Lister Hospital, after she was repeatedly offered non-vegan foods including cheese, tuna and scrambled egg while there as a patient.

Bernadette – whose vegan diet is catered for at her work in Bedford – self-discharged from the Stevenage hospital after two days, feeling “utterly humiliated”. She has demanded an apology.

It all started on Friday, March 23, when Bernadette was admitted via A&E to the Lister surgical assessment unit after injuring her right hand.

“The infected wound was to be treated with IV antibiotics and intervention from the plastic surgery team in theatre,” said Bernadette.

“I was visited by staff in the room I had been allocated at about 5pm, and offered a sandwich from the trolley.

“I was particularly hungry as had been ‘nil by mouth’ all day as plastics team had said at 6am that I would be operated on that same day under a general anaesthetic. At approximately 3pm I was informed that this was not to be the case and surgery would take place the following day, thus allowing me to be free to eat until midnight.”

Bernadette says she asked the two men pushing the trolley what vegan options they had, and was offered a cheese sandwich.

“I politely enquired if the staff understood what veganism was,” she said. “They both nonchalantly shrugged and muttered along the lines of ‘you don’t eat meat’.

“I explained that I don’t eat animals or animal products. I was then offered a tuna sandwich. I further explained that tuna is an animal therefore not for my consumption.

“The men appeared to find this amusing, which I found insulting – and I went on to quote that under Article 9 of the European Convention for Human Rights, veganism is listed as a ‘protected belief’ and by not offering an adequate meal the trust is in contravention of my human rights.” Bernadette was left with only a banana to eat.

In another ward the next morning, Saturday, Bernadette asked a clinical support worker about vegan options. She said he told her the kitchen would “‘knock me something up for tomorrow’s meals but too late for today’, adding that it ‘may be something of a potluck’.”

On the Sunday morning, it all continued. “I explained the whole vegan status once more to the hard faced female clinical support worker at the helm of the breakfast trolley,” said Bernadette. “I was met with ‘vegan, that’s the same as gluten-free, right?’ Wrong.

“Patience starting to wear thin, I explained that this is my third day in Lister Hospital without my dietary requirements being met. She slunk away shortly to return saying ‘the kitchen have offered to make you scrambled egg’.

“Patience wearing extremely thin and feeling belittled, I calmly advised that eggs are very much an animal product.” After going through what she does not eat, Bernadette was finally presented with soya milk and cornflakes.

Bernadette then decided to discharge herself, and the next day filed her complaint. She said: “One cannot be expected to recover from illness and surgery when nutritional needs are not being met and, indeed, are having to be bickered over time and time again. I simply did not have the strength nor willpower left.

“I find it incredulous that a hospital can not cater for the healthiest diet there is.”

The East and North Herts NHS Trust said the complaint was being investigated and that Bernadette would receive a full response when this was completed.

A spokesman said: “We were sorry to learn that she has reason to complain about the catering and nursing services at the Lister, especially when the needs of vegan diets – amongst others – is catered for.

“Our investigation will look into what happened in Ms Green’s case, but the trust’s director of nursing Rachael Corser would also be more than happy to speak with Ms Green should she wish for that to happen.”

• Editor’s note (April 4): A previous version of this article included a photograph, provided to the Comet by Ms Green, in which confidential patient details including dates of birth and NHS numbers were visible on a board behind her. We did not realise this at the time of publication and have removed the picture since having it brought to our attention. We would like to apologise to anyone whose information was shared in this way.