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Quality to cost connection unclear as NHS spend on hospital food increases

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Data published in the latest Department of Health estates and facilities statistics, which cover a wide range of aspects of hospital estates, 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: 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; key principles the NHS must follow for patient food and 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 average spend on food per patient rose slightly to £8.77, from £8.58 in 2010-11, compared to £8.06 in 2009/10.

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