Some NHS hospitals are failing to provide patients with high quality and healthy meals, the Health Secretary has warned.
Jeremy Hunt said that while some organisations are delivering decent food and drink for patients, others are "falling short".
In a move to crack down on inadequate hospital catering, Mr Hunt has introduced a set of standards to ensure that patients receive nutritious and appetising food throughout their hospital stay.
The set of standards come after an inquest revealed that neglect by medical staff led to the death of a hospital patient who called 999 because he was so thirsty.
Kane Gorny, 22, from Balham, south London, died of dehydration at St George's Hospital, in Tooting, in May 2009.
The new standards state that: "All patients should have access to fresh drinking water at all times, unless it contradicts clinical advice."
Mr Hunt also said that food and drink should be available at all times of the day - not just meal times.
Patients should also have the choice from a varied menu - including meals suitable for religious needs, he said.
Catering staff should also reduce the fat and salt content in food and introduce more fruit and vegetables.
Hospitals will be inspected to ensure that they are adhering to the guidance.
Teams of inspectors, half of whom will be patients, will examine the taste, quality and temperature of food as well as the cleanliness of ward kitchens.
Mr Hunt said that the "culture of care" across the NHS is a "top priority" of his.
"Patients should be treated with dignity and respect," he said.
"They have the right to expect food that is of high quality and healthy - and that it has been prepared in a clean kitchen.
"There are lots of hospitals already doing this, but in some places, the NHS falls short.
"Patients deserve the highest standards, and by making sure they lead the inspections, we will put their experience at the heart of improving the NHS."
British Dietetic Association honorary chair Helen Davidson, added: "The potential for good nutrition to improve hospital care is huge.
"Malnutrition should not be, but is, a very real and current problem within the UK population that needs urgent attention. Improving hospital food is part of the solution."
Age UK, the Patients Association and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) teamed up with the Government to drive up standards.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: "Hospital food can often have a very significant impact on the speed of recovery, susceptibility to infection and mental and physical well-being.
"Hospital food doesn't just need to be healthy - it also needs to be fresh and enticing enough to tempt patients who may not feel hungry.
"Giving patients the ability to choose their food is a welcome move, which already works well at many hospitals."
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, added: "Patients tell our helpline that high quality nutrition is an essential ingredient in improving their care and outcomes. But it is equally important that support from health professionals accompanies these changes so that vulnerable and elderly patients, such as those with dementia, experience the full benefits."
One hospital trust has introduced menus which show pictures of food to help elderly patients and those with dementia pick out their preferences.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said that a trial of the picture menus saw a drastic increase in the amount of food being eaten by elderly patients.
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