Hospitals can’t be trusted to rate their own food

With such complacent statistics to hand, no wonder the food is so bad

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It will be little surprise to anyone who has spent time in hospital to find that, in many cases, the food leaves much to be desired. Even the scale of patients’ dissatisfaction – only slightly more than half rate their meals as “good”, according to the latest survey – seems hardly outlandish.

What is remarkable, however, is the yawning gulf between the Care Quality Commission’s findings and those produced by hospitals themselves. With a sleight of hand reminiscent of a despot’s election victory, the annual assessments carried out by hospital staff record a self-congratulatory 99 per cent of meals rated “good” or “excellent”. Indeed, only two out of England’s 156 NHS trusts dropped below such high standards.

With such complacent statistics to hand, no wonder the food is so bad. And no wonder that as many as one in 10 hospital meals – more than 80,000 every day – are estimated to be thrown away untouched. Never mind the hair-splitting over whether in-house caterers or their outsourced counterparts are delivering a worse service. Both are unacceptable.

First, then, hospitals’ self-interested “surveys” must be consigned to history. But the issue of patients’ meals must itself also be tackled.

The past two decades have seen a string of attempts to solve the problem, all of them voluntary, some with an extra boost from a celebrity chef. None has worked. Meanwhile, the simplest and most effective mechanism has been ignored.

Where schools and prisons must adhere to strict guidelines as to the quality and nutritional content of the food provided, a hospital has no such strictures upon it. It is time to end the anomaly. Clear standards, carefully monitored, are needed forthwith.

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