The Government is refusing to say how many jobs could be lost in a proposed overhaul of the provision of hospital meals that would save up to $175 million over 15 years.
The plan has been drawn up by Health Benefits Limited (HBL), a Government-owned organisation set up to find savings by reducing duplication and administration costs.
Health Minister Tony Ryall confirmed there would be staffing cuts and didn't rule out closing or downsizing some of New Zealand's 39 hospital kitchens operated by 20 district health boards.
But Mr Ryall said the quality of meals provided to patients would be paramount and not compromised by the changes.
HBL spokesman Mark Reynolds confirmed the sector was consulting staff and unions.
The organisation released two papers last week proposing changes to district health boards' food and laundry services.
The paper about food proposes ways to reduce the cost of providing patient meals and meals on wheels and outlines plans for nationally agreed diets and nutrition standards.
It proposes streamlining food production for hospitals by creating two hubs, in Auckland and Christchurch.
The changes would see airline-style 'cook-and-chill' meals produced at the hubs before being transported to various hospitals and reheated. Some meals would still be made onsite.
Health Benefits would sign a 15-year contract with one provider, with an estimated total saving of $100-$175 million.
The preferred provider is believed to be UK-based Compass Group.
In Parliament Labour health spokeswoman Annette King told MPs the company was linked to the recent European horsemeat scandal.
"It's going to be a UK multinational company which recently fed horsemeat in their dinners."
Compass already provides a third of health board meals, Spotless Services another third, and local providers the rest.
Labour's spokeswoman on labour issues Darien Fenton said it wasn't the first time large-scale contracting out had been tried in public hospitals.
"The last time was in the 1990s when Australian company Tempo DNC left town under a cloud after they over-extended their business".
Service and Food Workers Union national secretary John Ryall confirmed it was involved in the review of hospital food services but said the details were confidential.
He said existing hospital services were good and changes could cause raise health safety problems.
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