Press release

NHS spends more on hospital food but significant variation remains

Department of Health figures published today show the NHS is spending more on food than ever before.

The average amount spent per patient per day has increased by almost ten per cent over the last two years, to £8.77.

However there is still significant regional variation on costs, with the biggest spending hospital spending £15.65 per patient on food - almost double the average and over £10 more than the lowest spending hospital. 

Across the NHS, the cost of food remains very low (at less than 0.5 per cent of the NHS budget) and previous studies have shown that there is no direct link between quality and cost when it comes to hospital food. However, the high levels of variation across the country suggest that some hospitals may need to spend more, while others could become more efficient.

The new figures have been published just days after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt launched a new drive to improve the quality of food which will address this variation - by seeking out those hospitals that are providing high quality food and examining how this can be replicated across the country. The new drive also includes:

Clear directions for hospitals on reducing fat and salt, including more fruit and vegetables on the menu and making sure food is bought in an environmentally sustainable way;
Eight clear principles the NHS must follow for patient food; and
New patient-led hospital inspections to make sure these principles are followed and standards actually improve.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

“Patients need high quality, nutritious food - this a crucial part of their care, particularly for older patients. The figures published today show while the NHS is spending more on food as a whole, costs vary wildly across the country.

“What’s not clear is whether when the price drops, quality drops too. I want to find out if there is a link between what is spent and the quality of food delivered; and if not, why not.”

Teams of inspectors, half of whom must be patients themselves, have now started pilot inspections across the country looking at aspects of food that are important to patients - including taste, quality, temperature, and the cleanliness of ward kitchens. Financial incentives for hospitals who deliver exceptional service are also being explored.

The Government has teamed up with charities and professional bodies, including Age UK, the Patients Association and the Royal College of Nursing, to drive up food standards.

Notes to editors

The average spend on food per patient rose slightly to £8.77, from £8.58 in 2010-11, compared to £8.06 in 2009/10.

The data has been published today in the latest estates and facilities statistics, which cover a wide range of aspects of hospital estates, including catering and maintenance. The data is available on the DH website.

The eight fundamental food principles, supported by Age UK, Patients Association, Hospital Caterers Association, Royal College of Nursing, Soil Association, British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition and the British Dietetic Association, set out what patients can expect from good hospital food:

  • Nutritious and appetising hospital food and drink is an essential part of the personal package of care and hospitals should take all reasonable steps to ensure that patients have a healthy food experience;
  • All patients should be able to choose from a reasonably varied menu that meets their social and religious needs whilst complementing their clinical care requirements;
  • All patients should have access at all times to fresh drinking water, unless this is contraindicated by their clinical condition;
  • Access to food and drink outside planned mealtimes should be available where appropriate;
  • Hospitals should promote a healthy diet to their staff and visitors; 
  • The criteria set out in the Government Buying Standards for Food should be adopted as standard where practical and supported by procurement practices;
  • Hospitals should regularly evaluate their food services and act on feedback from patients, demonstrating improvement and aiming to achieve and maintain excellence; and
  • Commissioners of NHS-funded care should seek and reward excellence in hospital food when contracting services.

The new inspections will mean that patients will be the ones in control and they will now be able to hold hospitals to account for the quality of food they serve up. Hospitals will be marked down if food is poor quality, if menus do not have suitable options for patients with special requirements (such as vegetarians or patients with religious needs), and if hot meals are not provided in the evenings.

The full programme of inspections is expected to start next April, after the pilot results have been examined. Hospitals will receive a rating on each area at the end of their inspection, and the results will be published online.

The Government Buying Standard for food and catering is available ono the DEFRA website

For further information, please contact Alasdair Gee in the Department of Health press office on 020 7210 5703.

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