SHARP variations in the cost and quality of hospital catering could be caused by the different conditions in which caterers have to work, according to industry insiders.

Caterers have been analysing a National Audit Office report on NHS food which indicated that up to a quarter of patients were unhappy with their meals (Caterer, 21 April).

Jerry Brand, chief executive of the Russell Brand Group, said many of the problems were the fault of those who ran the institutions.

"It is very easy to knock the caterers, but variations in standards are often due to some hospitals being starved of capital investment," said Mr Brand. "The conditions under which the caterers have to operate are crucial."

Mr Brand added that caterers often had no control over who delivered food once it left the kitchen, so could not guarantee it would be hot.

Mark Hayman, honorary secretary of the Hospital Caterers Association, refused to believe discrepancies in meal prices of between £2 and £15 per patient per day, as shown in the report.

"A difference of thismagnitude has got to be a clerical error. It can't be comparing like with like; the difference is too great," said Mr Hayman.

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