The NHS hospitals that feed patients on 86p a meal – while others splash out 7.50
Hospitals are spending as little as 86p on patients’ meals, it has emerged.
NHS figures reveal that more than 30 hospital trusts – about one in ten – set aside less than 5 to pay for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
There is already widespread concern that hospitals are not doing enough to ensure that the most vulnerable patients – particularly the elderly – do not go hungry or thirsty.
The National Health Service spends around 500million a year on food and drink for patients
A series of damning reports have exposed how patients on some wards have been allowed to go for hours without food and drink because nursing staff are too busy to help.
In addition, those in hospital frequently complain that the food they are offered is so unappealing that they would rather not touch it – despite the fact that good nutrition is vital for their recovery.
Statistics from the NHS Information Centre show that Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust spends the least on food in England.
It allocates only 2.57 a day per patient, which works out as an average of 86p for each meal.
Surprisingly, some items on its menu sound fairly appetising. For a hot main meal, patients can choose ‘tender diced lamb and fresh vegetables in cider served with parsley dumplings’, while vegetarians are offered ‘fresh broccoli florets with a seasoned tomato sauce topped with cheddar cheese’.
The starter of ‘yellow pea soup’ does not sound quite so delectable, however. The trust said the prices were so low because it buys all the ingredients locally, and prepares them on-site.
Others buy ready meals from factories and reheat them on wards. In some cases, food is shipped in from hundreds of miles away, meaning overall costs are far higher.
One such example is Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which took over from Wiltshire Primary Care Trust in June.
The NHS figures show that the PCT spent the most per patient per day – 22.31, or 7.44 for each meal.
The trust buys food from Wales-based catering firm Tillery Valley, which produces the meals in a factory in Gwent before lorries transport them to hospitals some 60 miles away.
The Government pointed out that hospitals had increased the amount they spend on food in the past five years, but campaigners warned that the quality of meals is often so dire patients would rather go hungry.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘Sadly, catering is not seen as a priority by the NHS, but it’s a false economy. It’s vitally important that people in hospital get a balanced diet – otherwise they will have only to stay in hospital longer.
Figures released last year showed food worth 22million was thrown away untouched in the previous year because patients were unable or unwilling to eat it
‘It’s no surprise that so many people complain about the quality of the food and say they are not able to eat.
‘Patients don’t expect restaurant-quality meals, but they do expect and deserve decent and nutritious food.’
Health minister Simon Burns said: ‘The amount of money hospitals are spending on food has gone up over the past five years, and waste is going down.
‘But this rise in the amount spent on food does not necessarily mean better food for patients.
‘Many trusts have excellent food and are serving healthy, fresh meals to their patients whilst staying within budget.
‘These trusts set a precedent for others to follow and the whole NHS should be learning from the best trusts.’