Campaigners have reacted angrily to new data that found almost half of NHS hospitals are failing to meet government standards for food.
Department of Health data showed that 48% of hospitals are not meeting Government Buying Standards that require hospitals to meet basic standards on food quality, nutrition, environmental sustainability and animal welfare, despite well over 90% of hospitals saying they are working towards the targets.
Only 55% of hospitals are compliant with the British Dietetic Association’s nutrition and hydration digest, a dedicated toolkit to help hospitals deliver nutritious meals that meet patient requirements. A similar proportion (54%) are fully compliant with the 10 key characteristics of good nutrition and hydration care from NHS England, which covers issues such as healthier food for staff and visitors and sustainability of food and catering services.
Nearly a third of patients are at real risk of malnutrition in hospitals, yet only half of hospitals said they screen every patient for signs that they are struggling to get enough to eat.
There were, however, signs of progress within the survey with 84% of hospitals reporting they now have a food and drink strategy in place, up 19% from 2015.
The hospital food standards, which together consist of five individual standards, were brought into the NHS standard contract in 2014 and are meant to be legally binding, although critics argue it was never clear what the repercussions would be if hospitals failed to meet the standards.
The Campaign for Better Hospital Food described the results as “diabolical” and called for the government to introduce equal legal protections for hospital food, similar to the protections that already exist for food in schools and prisons.