Exclusive: Nursing Standard investigation reveals hundreds of hospital food complaints

A slug in a sandwich and a Muslim patient being offered pork were among the complaints.

A  slug in a sandwich, a stone in a cottage pie and a Muslim patient being offered pork were among the hundreds of complaints made about NHS hospital food last year, Nursing Standard can reveal.

Picture: iStock

Our Freedom of Information investigation uncovered 471 food-related complaints at 106 NHS trusts in England in 2015-16.

Campaigners have called for legal standards regarding the quality of hospital food, while one leading nutrition nurse has urged that food and drink be considered on a par with medicine in hospitals.

Most complaints were about portion size, presentation, temperature and lack of menu options. Some of the more unappetising complaints included an empty medicine packet in a salad, hair found in food and a patient with diabetes being served high-sugar foods.

Cost of meal provision

Nursing Standard also asked about the daily cost of providing meals, and the amount of food disposed of uneaten. On average, the cost of providing meals to patients rose between 2014-15 and 2015-16. 

At Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, spending on patient food per day increased from £13.01 in 2014-15 to £17.34 in 2015-16, while Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s spending rose from £19.63 to £22.16.

A total of 43 trusts provided figures on food wastage. The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust saw 53,794 of its 949,308 main meals disposed of uneaten in 2015-16. This was down from 67,500 in 2014-15.

King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust had 17,509 meals untouched at its Princess Royal University Hospital site in 2015-16. 

The trust said this figure has been reduced to zero after the introduction of a patient meal ordering system, in which food is only prepared if patients are ready and able to eat. 

More work needed

National Nurses Nutrition Group chair Liz Anderson told Nursing Standard that while progress was being made to improve food for patients, more needed to be done.

She added: ‘Nutrition is an integral part of treatment, which needs as much consideration as medication and infection control.’

Katherine Button, coordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, said: ‘When some hospitals are serving unappealing reheated food to patients in ready-meal packaging, it’s no wonder thousands of meals a day end up in the bin.

‘We think patients deserve wholesome, tasty food that looks appetising and helps patients to recover their strength.

‘For this to happen nationwide we need legal standards for the quality of hospital food, like those already in place for food served in schools and prisons.’

Legal requirements

NHS Improvement, which oversees hospital food in England, said all NHS hospitals are legally bound to meet the requirements set by the Hospital Food Standards Panel, which relate to patient nutrition and hydration, healthier eating for NHS staff and visitors, and sustainable food and catering services. It added: ‘We expect all hospitals to examine what more they could do to improve food provision, choice and quality.’

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