Healthy living

Nine million hospital meals go uneaten every year

Nine million hospital meals go uneaten a year Concerns over patient nutrition

Around nine million hospital meals are uneaten every year in England, figures from NHS Trusts have revealed.

An analysis of data from 200 NHS and Mental Health Trusts found that nearly eight per cent of all hospital meals are returned to hospital kitchens untouched.

The data analyst specialist SSentif, which carried out the research, say the figures suggest that many Trusts are not adhering to the protected mealtimes initiative, which is supposed to give patients an adequate amount of time to eat meals, uninterrupted and with the assistance from staff if required.

Seven of the hospital Trusts reported a fifth of all patient meals being returned uneaten.

Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust had the worst record, with 29 per cent of meals returned, while 25 per cent went uneaten at the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust.

However, the study also suggested that food quality may not be the most important factor in whether meals were returned untouched, as some of the Trusts with the highest catering bills also had a high proportion of meals sent back to the hospital kitchen.

The figures are in advance of a Care Quality Commission (CQC) report into poor hospital nutrition and the elderly which is to be published this week. The watchdog has already published preliminary findings which show that some hospitals are not helping patients with meals, others are not being given enough to drink throughout the day and patients were not being treated in a 'respectful way.'

Judy Aldred, managing director of SSentif: "Despite spending millions of pounds on catering every year, the NHS has been subjected to criticism about poor quality food and patient malnutrition.

"Trusts have responsibility for their own catering budgets and with no minimum standard set by Government, the result seems to be huge discrepancies between organisations.

"Food waste in the NHS is also a big concern, as although some waste is inevitable in any catering environment, untouched meals in a healthcare situation have more worrying implications for patient health and nourishment.

"The fact that Trusts spending a generous amount on hospital meals still report high percentages of meals being returned untouched, would seem to suggest that the issue is less one of food quality is more closely linked to protected patient mealtimes - either they aren't working or hospitals are failing to enforce them."

This article was published on Tue 11 October 2011

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