Hospitals should spend little, but spend it well

It's difficult to understand how these institutions can spend relatively large sums on food, but deliver such a terribly low result

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The Independent Online

Would it be terribly sour of me to say I don't care about The Great British Bake Off? I haven't been caught up in the frenzy like the rest of the country, so whether Brendan's buns were cheated of the title by John's heaven and hell cake has had no impact on my life.

I've nothing against baking, but other food matters have been on my mind. Last week, when I wrote a column about the news that food prices are rocketing after the terrible summer, I got some astounding responses. It concentrates the mind when, for instance, @OurSouthend tweets to tell me that she is feeding herself and her toddler on £7 a week. (She has a blog,, which makes for compelling, if sobering, reading).

Chiffon cakes and French fancies don't appear much on that menu, I imagine. Nor on hospital menus either. Yesterday we heard that hospitals are spending, as the headline in i said, "less than £5 a day on meals". I have to say, I was amazed it is ever that much.

Given the bulk purchasing that must go on, and the mass production, I would have thought it possible to create healthy, filling meals for much less. Porridge or granary toast for breakfast, veggie curry and brown rice for lunch, mackerel or turkey for dinner with salad and a baked potato. Bowls of seasonal fruit, and nut and seeds bars with tea.

Of course, many food experts have struggled to make any impact on hospital catering. But it is difficult to understand how relatively large sums are spent (£15.65 a day at Barts; £7.64 at Great Ormond Street) with such a terribly low result, health-wise.

The picture above is of the dinner I was served at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, recently. A spongy white bread sandwich with a tuna filling (allegedly); pudding was a pink and white swirl of what can only be described at whipped lard. (It reminded me that on an earlier visit a wise long-term patient advised me to order the halal food, always a nice hot veggie curry.)

Half a tin of economy tuna costs 25p; two slices of white bread 27p, salad cream dollop 5p. Whoever created that heinous pud cannot charge more than 30p. So dinner cost around 87p. Three times a day, £2.61. So where is the money going?

With food price hikes, and pressure on the NHS like never before, it's wrong-headed to demand hospitals spend more than £5 a day on food. But they could spend it more cleverly. Stop trying to serve Pret-like food, just plain, good stuff. By the way, I priced "my" menu from Tesco: it cost £3.94.