The amount spent on hospital food has reached an all time low, according to reports.
The figures, obtained by the Mirror newspaper after analysing NHS Information Centre statistics, show 20 trusts spend less than £5 a day feeding each patient.
Food budgets at English hospitals in 2009-10 have been cut by as much as 62% compared with five years previously, despite the cost of ingredients rising and claims from bosses that their food is improving.
Roger Goss, co-director of Patient Concern, believes the problem will only get worse with further budget cuts. He said: "Hospital food is a disaster. Each hospital is allowed to decide how much it spends but the Department of Health should set a minimum amount and ring-fence the budget.
"With the financial situation they are facing I expect every hospital to look at cuts which can be made without it being possible to prove patient care was affected. It's pathetic. I don't understand how people can't see that nutrition plays a part in recovery," he adds.
The worst hospital for spending on food is reported to be St George's in Tooting, South-west London, which spends just £3.11 a day. In 2004-05 it spent £6.67.
A total of 36 out of 191 NHS trusts cut spending on food in the five-year period. The biggest percentage drop came at the Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in West Sussex. Hospitals spent £10.97 per day in 2004-05 but it decreased by 62% to £4.11 last year.
Janice Gillan, chairman of the Hospital Caterers Association, said: "£3 per day is what a lot of people are working with to provide nutritional analysed meals. It is a constant financial juggling act, particularly when the cost of food is rising.
"We want to always maintain the quality of food we are serving. In the current financial climate you have to look at other things to avoid touching patient meals, for example dining rooms, meals on wheels and services for the local authority."
The Department of Health said: "The Care Quality Commission has tough powers for cases where proper standards are not met."
By Gemma Rowbotham
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