Food fit for a health or disease service?

07 February 2011

A new survey for the Soil Association has revealed that over half of people (53%) would not be happy serving the meals they were given in hospital to a child, 29% say the food was so bad that at times they couldn’t recognise what was on their plate, and nearly a quarter (24%) opted out of the catering entirely – choosing instead to have every meal brought into them by visiting relatives. [1]

The poll backs up the findings of an independent report, commissioned by the Soil Association, which exposes the often shocking state of hospital food in Britain today - showing that hospital food’s rotten reputation is often richly deserved. In fact every independent survey of hospital food since 1963 has concluded that NHS food is neither appetising nor nutritious. [2]

While negative reports on hospital food will surprise few, the Soil Association's report 'First aid for hospital food' is full of success stories, where positive improvements in quality, local food sourcing has improved patient’s food without inflating hospital budgets. A significant number of hospitals are already sourcing local, seasonal, organic food, cutting their food miles, boosting their local economies and serving healthier, fresher meals to their patients within tight budgets, and in some cases even saving money.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said:
"All too frequently the food served in our hospitals is more appropriate to a disease service than a health service. Overall, hospital food is a national scandal, but the case studies highlighted in our report provide the blueprints for national reform - practical examples which demonstrate that really good hospital food needn't cost more. What is needed is commitment from those in charge of hospital trusts, and catering staff with real skill in sourcing and cooking simple, good quality meals.”

Some highlights from the report:

  • Sussex NHS Foundation Trust uses substantial volumes of local food and some organic, on a tight budget, producing 350,000 meals a year with 12 staff in one of the smallest hospital kitchens in the country.
  • Warrington Memorial Hospital was the first hospital in the country to switch its entire order for milk to organic in 2005; the milk comes from Acorn dairy which is just two miles from the hospital.  The organic milk is priced competitively because of lower haulage costs.
  • The North Bristol NHS Trust, who have achieved the Soil Association’s Food for Life Bronze Catering Mark, have increased local sourcing substantially, while staying within a budget - around £2.20 per day - which is below the national average.
  • St Andrew’s in Northampton source 40% of their food within a 50 miles radius of their sites, and 20% of the ingredients are organic. They estimate that they have reduced their food miles by 96,000 miles.
  • Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, who have achieved the Soil Association’s Food for Life Bronze Catering Mark, source all milk for the City Hospital, 1,000 pints a day, from a local dairy 11 miles away. 95% of its meat comes from a local processor sourcing from farmers in the East Midlands. The Trust’s switch to local suppliers has saved an estimated 150,000 food miles a year and £6 million per annum.


[1] OnePoll conducted a survey of 1000 people in Dec 2010 who have either stayed in hospital themselves or who have had a close family member in hospital within the last 6-months. A summary of the poll:

  • Over a third (35%) of people thought hospital meals were not acceptable
  • Over half (53%) would not serve the meals to a child
  • Nearly two thirds (63%) of people had food bought in from outside the hospital because they didn't like the meals being served. Nearly a quarter (24%)had all meals bought in.
  • Over a quarter (29%) of the people survey admitted to not being able to recognise the food on the plate
  • Over two thirds of people (68%) think hospital meals should be improved

[2] Download the report ‘First Aid for Hospital Food’ here

[3] For photographs of hospitals meals see our flickr site

[4] Send us your photos:
Help us illustrate the shocking disparity between good and bad food culture in UK hospitals by sending in your photos of hospital food. Don’t include people or names, just the food that’s dished up at mealtimes. There are three ways to get your photos to us:

Help us in our campaign to improve the quality of hospital food.


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