CAMPAIGNERS HAVE urged the Government to introduce mandatory minimum standards for hospital food.
The call comes on the back of a series of freedom of information requests which found that most eggs, chicken and pork served is from animals reared in basic welfare conditions.
The RSPCA and the Campaign for Better Hospital Food surveyed every hospital Trust in England and found that around seven in 10 eggs are from hens kept in cages. In fact, more than half the countrys hospitals dont serve any cage-free eggs.
Meanwhile, 80% of pork and chicken is from farms that dont meet RSPCA welfare standards.
The results also showed that hospital visitors were able to buy food from higher welfare farms than the patients.
Even hospitals serving food made from free range eggs in their coffee shops and cafeterias are still delivering food made with cage eggs to patients, explained RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles.
Despite pressure on hospital budgets, campaigners pointed to supermarket figures showing that the RSPCA Freedom Food-labelled food does not always cost more. For example, Freedom Food barn eggs from Sainsbury's cost the same as cage eggs from Tesco and ASDA.
The results come on the back of new guidelines published last month which encouraged the use of government buying standards for hospital food as standard wherever possible.
However, campaigners are not convinced that the guidelines are strong enough. The Governments view is that the standards would set an example for other public service bodies, such as schools and hospitals, to follow. However, just one central government department (Defra, the department that set the standards) has shown any willingness to engage at least publicly.
The government must introduce mandatory higher animal welfare standards for all hospital food in England, said Alex Jackson from the Campaign for Better Hospital Food.
In an additional survey of patients, the groups found that 69% of people agreed that the welfare of animals bred for meat, eggs and dairy should not be compromised in order to produce cheap hospital food.
Huge geographical variations in procurement were also found, with patients subjected to a postcode lottery when it comes to the food they are served.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We want the NHS to serve food for patients that's not only tasty and nutritious, but also sourced ethically. Patients deserve the highest standards, and they have the right to expect food that is high quality and healthy.
"Individual hospitals decide where they buy their food from, but we are encouraging them to adopt the Government Buying Standards for food. They provide clear criteria that encourage environmental sustainability.