/ Food & Drink, Health

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?

Sophia says:
17 January 2012

Where are the dietitians in these hospitals? aren’t they the experts in nutrition? they should be pounding on the door of the Chief Exec demanding better hospital food, adequate portions and higher nutritional value. we shouldn’t have to rely on Jamie Oliver and a consumer magazine to highlight these problems, we should be asking why hospital dietitians are not earning their salaries by managing nutrition of all hospital patients.

For breakfast I have been fed toast and these tedious market breakfast cereals when in hospital. Neither would I feed to dogs (though I appreciate that some like them), but I never managed to get a portion of muesli other than the dreadful stuff containing sugar and mlk powder. It would not break the bank to have a packet of decent muesli on the breakfast trolley and it will help sustain patients during the long wait for lunch.

My experience with hospitals suggests that fruit is something that visitors are expected to provide.

Sorry, that should read …mass market breakfast cereals.

It isn’t just the nutritional value of the food – it is the way it is served. Contracts can mean that the person bringing the trolley up from the kitchen needs to have all the staff on the ward available in order to get the food handed out and plates back to get trolley and washing up back to the kitchen.in a short amount of time.

This can include grated cheese and salad and flaked tuna in plastic tubs to go with the ubiquitous baked potatoes. The elderly need help to open these pots and help to open the fruit pots and help to open the packed sandwiches and help to open any salad cream or tomato sauce in a small plastic sachet. This is time consuming for the staff too.

Not enough attention is given to the fact that medication has many side effects and many need to be taken before food or after food. There are also those which give you nausea and those which give you a dry mouth making dry baked potatoes and dry sandwiches particularly unpalatable especially after a few weeks of them on the menu for both lunch and supper. It is a shame that there isn’t the choice of some of the wetter fillings that can be found at cafes and takeaways. It is also a great shame that people having difficulty like this do not get enough help in hospital with their diet and that there seems to be a fight to get food for the patients. Everybody’s menu needs to be filled in – and often is not by the patient but by the staff – just so that there is enough food on the ward.

More than 5 years ago we had to go hunting for yoghurt for my father who was recovering from a stroke and was hungry but there was not enough food on the ward for him at mealtime and nowhere to get any in the hospital.

The longed for cup of tea arrives far too hot but by the time someone is available to help you drink it is stone cold so gets taken away.

These are patients who it is difficult to keep hydrated yet these hydration chances are lost so easily.

Protected Mealtimes are often used to send relatives away when they should/could be encouraged to help their relatives eat and drink. There are not enough staff.

Recently I heard the head of the Royal College of Nursing state that the elderly need a staff ratio of 1:4 the same as children but they have a 1:10 ratio.

There is supposed to be more than one menu but on some wards they appear to only have one available – ie there should be a pureed/soft meal one as well as the standard one. I also wonder why there often is no choice of portion sizes.

Yes despite being urged to eat 5-a-day you’d be pushed to find them in hospital.

Drop the fancy names eg chicken cacciatora. This is hospital food.

My day in hospital a couple of years ago showed how appalling hospital food was – it was uneatable – so I left early so as not to suffer the disgusting tasteless food.

But as a State OAP I have just £1.50 A DAY to pay for all meals after all other expenses are paid – WHY?? Remember I paid for over 40 years for this luxury!!

But porridge for breakfast – four chicken wings and mixed veg for Lunch – and a paste sandwich for supper comes to around £1.50 A DAY and is balanced and nutritious

I have to wonder if the present generation is spoilt?

Robert says:
11 February 2012

I am in hospital, been here for 11days.
I have seen a dietician who has explained what I need to order and has spoken to the hospital catering on my behalf.
The resultvis patch, sometimes they get it right and so etimes they ignore my request.
My conclusion is that the wholes system is being let down by the management of the catering staff.
I am supposed to have larger portions (because I lost weight whilst in hospital) sometimes they do this and other times I get a small portion.

Helen says:
15 February 2012

I was unfortunate to end up in hospital last week. I was put on a ward where most of the patients were elderly women. One had previously had a stroke and had recently fallen(which was why she was in), another clearly could not walk and had to be helped with all her basic needs. When it came to food, I was disgusted.

Not only was it packet breakfast cereal, but these poor women couldn’t even open the packet. I helped the lady who had had a stroke as no-one was available to help her.

Lunch was inedible. I was given a cheese and tomato sandwich which I wouldn’t have given to the dog.

I don’t think people ask for much, but a basic nutritious meal seems better than inedible rubbish that only ends up in the bin.

gerald says:
13 February 2013

Check out the recent scandal at Mid Staffs Hospital, Bad or insuffient food is just a small part of the problems in Britains Hospitals, Which? really should carry out a more detailed survey into Hospital ” Value for Money ” it is costing us all over £200 Billion a year isn’t it??
I understand that the PCT payes a trust around £2500 a week for bed,breakfast and meals surely this should pay for good meals when in most cases you do not even get your own private room .