Doctors and nurses enjoy better food in hospitals than the sick, a new report has found, with one in five patients forced to eat reheated airline-style food from plastic containers.
A survey by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food found that fewer than one third of London hospitals serve freshly cooked meals to patients but 77 per cent provide fresh food for staff in canteens.
Half of the hospitals surveyed are also failing to meet basic standards for nutrition and hydration, the report found, leading campaigners to call for tough new legal requirements for patient food similar to those which exist for schools and prisons.
Prue Leith, the restaurateur and cookery expert, is spearheading the campaign after noticing the ‘inedible, foul-smelling sludge’ served to her mother when in hospital. She found that hospitals were operating on a budget of just £1.49 per meal.
"I’ve been peripherally involved in trying to improve hospital food for ages. A friend died in the Marsden and right till the end her meals brought her a small moment of pleasure. She looked forward to them. But other hospitals don’t seem to realise the importance of good food – not just nutritious food: it has to be palatable to get eaten –for both health and pleasure.
“This report shows that at the moment most hospitals are not serving fresh, tasty and wholesome food so we must have legal standards, like those already in place for school food and prison food, to make sure good food is a priority in our hospitals.
“At the same time, our British farmers and fishers face the uncertainties of the future outside EU markets for the good food they produce. This Government could address both issues head on by encouraging the NHS to buy excellent quality British produce.”
The survey found that 50 per cent of hospitals had not met all of the five basic Hospital Food Standards required by the NHS Standard Contract for hospitals, which set out guidelines for nutrition, hydration, animal welfare and sustainability. One fifth do not provide patients with a hot meal if they miss mealtimes.
Just 13 per cent of hospitals achieved the Soil Association’s ‘Food For Life Served Here’ catering mark for patient food, which guarantees that produce has arrived fresh from local suppliers, yet 21 per cent of hospitals achieved the accreditation for staff food.
Katherine Button, coordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, said: “We applaud the 77 per cent of hospitals cooking food for their hardworking staff freshly on-site, but sadly only 30 per cent of hospitals are doing their patients the same courtesy.
"Hospitals must start to prioritise patient food, as they already do for staff. Sick patients who are recovering from illness also deserve freshly prepared tasty and wholesome food cooked with care.
“The Government has failed to take seriously the dire state of hospital food for too long and now half of London hospitals are not meeting even basic food standards.
"Good food plays an essential role in recovery, well-being and morale, and patients and staff in NHS hospitals deserve better."
Although the research only looked at London hospitals, the campaigners said the results were indicative of the picture across the country.
The report also found that although staff were eating more fresh food than patients, there was still little healthy food available 24 hours a day. Around two-thirds of hospitals surveyed do not yet have healthy food available for staff working night shifts. And just two hospitals had shops where more than half of produce was healthy.
Jo Ralling, Jamie Oliver Food Foundation Campaign Manager and supporter of the campaign, said: “The Campaign for Better Hospital Food’s report is a must read for all policy makers in the country.
“We’ve had legal food standards for schools and prisons for a decade, there’s no reason we can’t extend these same protections to hospitals. Let’s all work together to get NHS patients and staff the good healthy food they deserve.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said the government had introduced legally binding food standards, but the Care Quality Commission can only prosecute where a patient might be harmed by lack of nutrition of hydration.