Four years ago, if you were recovering in a hospital bed in Cornwall, you might have been offered a fishcake for supper that had the appearance and taste of a hockey puck. Today the dish is made from mackerel or cod caught by fishermen in St Ives or Newlyn and wholemeal breadcrumbs from bread baked on site using wheat from local farms.

Cornwall NHS trusts say their use of local, fresh food in 80 per cent of ingredients for meals is speeding up recovery of patients. The bold claim may be merely the result of patients actually eating the food given to them. But the experience of Cornwall and the use of organic ingredients at London's Royal Brompton Hospital have so excited ministers that the Department of Health is researching the benefits of locally sourced food in hospitals nationwide.

Mike Pearson, Cornwall Food Programme project leader, said the secret of meals in the five hospitals covered by the trust lies in the West Country farmland and the nearby sea. "There is only anecdotal evidence of the benefits at the moment, but it is obvious that fresh local food does you good and makes you feel better. If you are poorly, you want palatable meals that are fresh."

Food includes Cornish fish pie, seasonal vegetables and fruit from local growers, lamb in cider with parsley dumplings, and pork with apple and ginger dumplings. Even Cornish pasties, handmade and additive-free, are on the menu. Nine out of 10 patients describe the food as "excellent".

Patients who need to build up their calorie intake are given small portions of energy-rich Cornish ice cream from dairies in Newquay, instead of manufactured powdered energy drinks. The milk is locally sourced rather than from Scotland, reducing lorry emissions. All fish comes from the Cornish coastline, instead of Grimsby. Vegetables are locally grown or sourced from the 80 farmers' markets in the county. Local farming and fishing industries have also benefited.

Prince Charles said of the Cornwall Food Programme last year: "Contrary to what some believe, it is generally the case that what is good for the environment is also good for our health, and good for business."

Mr Pearson added: "There are some things you can't buy locally, such as sugar and bananas. But we do have the Eden Project nearby, so we are working on the bananas."

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