Are some NHS hospitals short changing hungry patients?
I don’t think I could eat healthily on £2.57 a day, and I’d feel rather extravagant spending £22.31. It’s no surprise that data on how much hospitals spend on feeding patients has caused such a stir.
If you’ve ever been a hospital patient, you’ll know that the long days revolve around the meal trolley. But all too often it’s a case of waiting for the food smuggled in by your (hopefully regular) visitors before you can eat something palatable.
According to the NHS’s own stats, one in 10 hospitals spend less than £5 a day on breakfast, lunch and dinner for their patients. Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust was found to spend the least on patients, at just £2.57 a day (86p a meal). On the other end of the plate, Wiltshire PCT spends the most, coughing up £22.31 a day.
Do we need strict hospital food standards?
It’s hard to say exactly how much should be spent on hospital food. Some hospitals will be able to reduce costs due to their large economies of scale. And the clever ones will source high-quality, local food at reasonable prices, knowing that appetising and nutritious food will aid sick people’s recovery, hastening their return home.
However, Which? research has shown that there are no standards for what’s dished up in hospitals in England, with guidance only for the most nutritionally vulnerable patients.
The government’s recently issued food buying standards, which include criteria to reduce salt, fat and sugar and increase the amount of fruit, veg and oily fish, are voluntary for hospitals to use. The government is unwilling to impose standards on what it sees as a local issue.
Scotland, on the other hand, has tackled the issue head on. There are nutritional champions in every NHS board and clear nutritional standards which decide what’s served to all patients in Scottish hospitals. Wales is also upping its game.
Nobody wants top-down intervention where it isn’t necessary, but isn’t there a need for England and Northern Ireland, where no compulsory standards are planned, to re-consider whether basic good food is really best left for local hospitals to decide?
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