Patients are to turn food inspectors following the announcement of "tough" new hospital food guidelines by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured).
A set of basic principles covering food quality, nutritional content and patient choice will be published because some NHS hospitals are failing to provide patients with high-quality and healthy meals, the health secretary has warned.
They will be published alongside new guidance for all hospitals that will be backed up by inspections, half of which must be carried out by patients.
The Government has worked with charities and professional bodies, including Age UK, the Patients Association and the Royal College of Nursing, in a bid to drive up standards.
"Patients should be treated with dignity and respect. They have the right to expect food that is high quality and healthy - and that has been prepared in a clean kitchen," Hunt explained.
"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."
The new principles were welcomed by the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA), which said that setting out standards for all hospitals would establish a level playing field.
Janice Gillan, HCA national chair, said: "It is also strong confirmation that hospital food is, once again, high on the Government's agenda, which sends a clear signal about the priority level for food and is a positive acknowledgement of food's important role for patient wellbeing and recovery."
Pilot inspections have begun across the country.
By Janie Manzoori-Stamford
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