The NHS is spending more on patient food than ever before, official figures show.
According to the Department of Health (DH), the average amount spent per patient per day on food has increased by almost 10% over the past two years to £8.77 – up from £8.58 in 2010/11 and £8.06 in 2009/10.
There is, however, still “significant” regional variation on patient food costs, with the highest spending hospital standing at £15.65 per patient on food - £10 more than the lowest spending hospital.
Across the NHS, the cost of food remains at less than 0.5% of the NHS budget.
In conjunction with the figures, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has launched a new drive to improve the quality of food in hospitals.
Under the eight principles outlined by Hunt, NHS hospitals must ensure they reduce the fat and salt, levels in the food offered, include more fruit and vegetables in their menus and make sure food is bought in an environmentally sustainable way.
“Patients need high quality, nutritious food – this is a crucial part of their care, particularly for older patients,” said Hunt.
“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 are be patients themselves, have already 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.
Hospitals will then receive a rating on each area and the results will be published online.
It is also said financial incentives for hospitals that deliver exceptional service “are also being explored”.