Food in hospitalsThe government has been accused of exaggerating the quality of hospital food, after it was revealed that fewer patient meals meet the standards set for prison food than is claimed by the Department of Health.

In November the Department of Health claimed that half of patient meals meet Government Buying Standards, which are mandatory for food served in government departments and prisons, but which are voluntary for hospitals. The government rejected calls to make the standards mandatory for patient meals, claiming that half of hospitals are already voluntarily adopting them.

But an investigation by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food found that at least 1 in every 3 hospital Trusts, which claim to be compliant with Government Buying Standards, are failing to meet one of its most basic mandatory criteria, which is that half of tea and coffee bought for patients is fairly traded.

Alex Jackson, Co-ordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, said: "We've had enough of the government using poor excuses and fiddled figures to justify why it won't introduce mandatory quality standards for patient meals. 

“Their refusal to do this is appalling and inexplicable, and is an affront to thousands of hospital patients and to their families. Ministers must be living on another planet if they think it's acceptable to set standards to improve meals served to prisoners, but not to sick patients."

Government Buying Standards also include criteria to improve the healthiness of meals and the standard of their production. For example, the standards limit the amount of saturated fat and salt in meals and require that a minimum amount of food meets higher standards of production, including organic certification, and that fish is proven to be sustainable. 

Ninety eight organisations supporting the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, including the Royal College of Physicians, British Heart Foundation and the Patients Association, are calling on the government to support the Health and Social Care (Amendment) (Food Standards) Bill , which has been introduced to Parliament by Baroness Cumberlege, and would improve all patient meals by requiring them to meet mandatory quality, nutritional and environmental standards.