Most people believe that hospital food is poor quality – even those with no experience of it themselves, and regardless of whether their criticisms are fair in individual cases. Three of the complaints we hear most often from patients is that hospital food is poor quality, ill-suited to their needs, e.g. dairy intolerant patients being served milk, and unhealthy.

Food in the hospitalThese concerns are all well-founded, particularly those about the nutritional value of hospital food. Last year, our campaign established that hospital food served to patients in England is likely to be more unhealthy (i.e. contains more salt, sugar and saturated fat) than food served at fast-food restaurants like McDonalds.

This culture of unhealthy eating in the NHS also extends to food sold to staff and visitors on hospital premises where vending machines, ‘snack’ trolleys taken to the wards and many on-site shops often only sell junk food and sugary drinks. It should not take a campaign to demonstrate that serving unhealthy in hospital is wrong, especially when diet-related ill health is costing the NHS millions of pounds every year.

For the last twenty years, and in response to the public and media criticism of hospital food, the government has launched a plethora of guidance intended to improve the standard of patient meals, costing the taxpayer more than £54 million in the process. This guidance has been largely ignored, or adopted only for a short time, because it was not made mandatory.

It is staggering that this is the case when you consider that most food served in the UK’s public sector is required to meet mandatory nutritional and quality standards, including school food, and food served in government departments, prisons, and Scottish and Welsh hospitals.

Food in hospitals







Some hospitals in England are preparing and cooking fantastic meals but the same high standards aren’t being achieved everywhere, proving that just because some hospitals are getting it right, it doesn’t mean that the rest will follow. History has taught us best practice does not spread by itself.

The Campaign for Better Hospital Food believes that the only way to make sure that all patient meals are high quality, healthy and made to the best standards of production is for the government to set mandatory standards for all hospital food in England. Setting standards for school food has been hugely successful in revolutionising the quality of school meals. It also laid the foundations for the injection of more money into school catering, giving caterers more time and greater freedom to cook meals to the best of their ability.

Mandatory standards for hospital food could achieve brilliant changes. For example, setting standards could result in hospitals serving more fresh seasonal ingredients which have been grown using less oil and water and without damaging soil and biodiversity, more produce from the best British farmers and only fish which is certified to be sustainable. This would drive up quality standards but also ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent on hospital food which does good – for our health, for the environment, for our economy, and for animal welfare, to name but a few – rather than harm.

Campaign for Better Hospital FoodAlex Jackson is Co-ordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food which is calling on the Westminster government to set mandatory standards for hospital food in England.


Oral Health Foundation

The Oral Health Foundation is a charity that works to improve oral health by providing education, advice, and support to millions of people every year, changing lives for the better. Our mission is to support others in achieving a healthier life through better oral health. Our vision is to live in a world where everybody has a healthy mouth and is free of dental disease. Poor oral health can have a harmful and devastating effect on a person’s life – both for their physical health and mental wellbeing. We are determined to help more people achieve good oral health and have a better quality of life. Sadly, oral disease remains common, across the life course. We are taking the challenge to reduce the harm caused by poor oral health and the responsibility to create a healthier future for everybody. We do this because we believe that everybody deserves to have good oral health. To make sure this happens, by 2024, we will:

    • Work towards decreasing the prevalence of oral disease across communities.
    • Increase the number of people accessing our help and information services.
    • Diversify our range of resources to reach more communities.
    • Successfully campaign for policies which help people achieve healthier lives.
    • Generate new and nurture existing income streams that enable us to deliver our charitable objectives.

We are going to achieve success by:

    • Running awareness campaigns like National Smile Month and Mouth Cancer Action Month.
    • Giving anybody who needs it direct support through our Dental Helpline.
    • Influencing policy on subjects like dental access, sugar, and tobacco.
    • Providing consumer advice on oral health care products and working alongside manufacturers to make sure products do what they claim to do.
    • Creating resources and information that communicates positive oral health messages.
    • Working alongside others who share our passion for health and wellbeing.

To find out more about us, visit our website at

2 Responses to Hospital food must be made to meet standards

  1. Thanks for sharing this information with us…..

    on January 19, 2014 at 2:29 pm Encore Dental Partners
  2. The photos shown in your article are very representative of hospital food, unfortunately. Some years ago I was in hospital for several days for a major operation. The fact that I was vegan and gluten free and drank neither coffee nor tea seemed a major inconvenience as if I was deliberately being awkward. The food I got served was meagre with little nutritional value, for instance the day of my operation which had required fasting, I was particularly hungry for my lunch which had been pre-ordered. It eventually came at 5.15pm, after many enquiries, a small plate of stone-cold chips! I had to eat them because there was nothing else.I was very grateful one day to a friend who brought in some delicious soya yoghurts than tasted to me like nectar of the gods! A year ago a vegetarian family member with slight dementia was in an elderly people’s home (quite a nice one in SW London) and I happened to be there when supper was served. The soup she had put in front of her was animal based and I had to remind them she was vegetarian. She was given no alternative, I even went to their kitchen, and was just served a cheese sandwich with white pre-sliced bread. She used to eat vegetarian cheese at home, but this was ordinary cheese. No vegetables were served. Dessert was the same white bread and jam. I could tell she was very hungry as all the time I was there she was trying to eat biscuits and scraps of anything she could get. It was apalling…(Unfortunately she died within 2 weeks, having caught a cold from a member of staff) Why do institutiions not serve properly balanced meals with cooked and raw vegetables and other nutricious and delicious foods to tempt those without an appetite? My work takes me into hospitals occasionally and I see not much change, still starchy unappetising meals…Surely, with nutrition so important for recovery, patients should get appropriate options that would set an example to them and their family to the type of food that should be eaten at home, not an example of fatty starchy convenience foods!

    on February 9, 2017 at 4:50 pm veganlyn

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