Industry leaders have urged the Government to go "back to basics" after a report warned that more than £50m has been wasted on efforts to improve hospital food.
The report, entitled A Decade of Hospital Food Failure](http://www.sustainweb.org/pdf2/GFFOM_voluntary_initiatives_fail_hospital_food_Dec09.pdf), found that the 17 separate schemes introduced since 2000 have resulted in almost no improvement to the quality, healthiness and environmental value of hospital food.
In particular, the research commissioned by health and environmental charity Sustain criticised the Government's refusal to introduce legal guidelines as they have in schools.
Kevan Wallace, chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, said that although hospital food should not be looked at in the same way as school catering, there are some standards he would welcome, such as a mandatory minimum spend on food costs.
"The Government has missed a trick by not ring-fencing hospital food money in the way it has with medicine budgets," he said. "By ensuring there's a minimum spend of £2.50 on food costs, all hospitals would be starting from a level playing field."
He went on to emphasise the importance of recognising the role of food in hospitals: "It should be ranked alongside medicine as an integral part of patient care," he added.
Mike Duckett, catering manager at London's Royal Brompton Hospital, stressed the importance of quality catering and suggested that standardisation could offer savings.
He said: "It doesn't matter if every hospital is serving a chicken pie, as long as the chicken pie is of a good standard. Purchasing costs could be reduced if everyone was ordering for the same menu too."
The £40m Better Hospital Food Initiative led by Lloyd Grossman was launched in 2001, but it was scrapped five years later following poor take-up.
By Janie Stamford
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