Hospitals spending just £3 a day on patients’ meals

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Hospitals are spending as little as £3 a day on food for patients, despite rising numbers of cases of malnutrition, new figures show.

Data reveals 13 trusts spending less than £5 a day on food, with just £2.61 a day spent by one NHS hospital – little more than the daily spend in prisons.

Labour on Wednesday pledged to introduce new legal minimum standard for hospital food, to ensure patients were better nourished.

Records show the number of patients admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition has more than doubled since 2009/10, with 8,458 cases where it was the primary or secondary diagnosis in 2016/17.

Cookery expert Prue Leith, an ambassador for the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, welcomed Labour’s pledge.

The Bake-Off judge said: “Finally a major political party is waking up to the issue of hospital food. For the sake of patients’ recovery and for their enjoyment, let’s hope the government follows suit and commits to better food in our hospitals.”

The NHS data shows widespread variation in spending on food, with some trusts stating their daily costs as £40 per patient per day. However, such figures were likely to include food transport and other catering costs, such as staff pay.

Labour’s new analysis of official hospital food data shows £560 million spent on 144 million inpatient main meals in 2016/17 – an average of £3.68 per meal.

Gloucester Royal Hospital spent just £2.61 per patient each day, while Cheltenham General Hospital spent £3.63 and Alder Hey Hospital spent £3.80 per head.

Prisons spend around £2 a day on food for inmates.

Why is the NHS under so much pressure?

  • An ageing population. There are one million more people over the age of 65 than five years ago. This has caused a surge in demand for medical care
  • Cuts to budgets for social care. While the NHS budget has been protected, social services for home helps and other care have fallen by 11 per cent in five years. This has caused record levels of “bedblocking”; people with no medical need to be in hospital are stuck there because they can’t be supported at home
  • Staff shortages. While hospital doctor and nurse numbers have risen over the last decade, they have not kept pace with the rise in demand. Meanwhile 2016 saw record numbers of GP practices close, displacing patients on to A&E departments as they seek medical advice
  • Lifestyle factors. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, a poor diet with not enough fruit and vegetables and not doing enough exercise are all major reasons for becoming unwell and needing to rely on our health services. Growing numbers of overweight children show this problem is currently set to continue

NHS records show record numbers of patients dying from malnutrition.

According to the Office of National Statistics, malnutrition was the underlying cause or a contributory factor in 351 deaths in NHS hospitals in England and Wales in 2016.

Malnutrition was the underlying cause of 66 deaths, up from 59 the previous year and the highest number in the last decade.

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, will today tell a conference of the Hospital Caterers’ Association: “Patient care isn’t just about medicines, bandages, treatments and surgical procedures. It’s about nutrition and hydration as well.

“And yet we have allowed a situation where some hospitals according to the official data are spending less than £3 a day on patient meals.

“Unlike schools and prisons there are no mandatory minimum requirements for hospital meals, so the next Labour government will substantially increase investment in our NHS to improve patient care including providing the nutritious meals patients deserve.”

He said the new standards would have the same legal basis as those on school food, and would be independently monitored and enforced.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Whilst food in hospitals is given a rating of 9 out of 10 by patients, we know nutrition is a vital part of recovery. “

He said existing systems regulated the quality and safety of hospital nutrition.

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