SHOCKING new figures reveal that up to a quarter of all meals served in NHS hospitals in England go untouched, wasting a whopping £22m a year.
Analysis carried out by SSentif on 200 hospital and mental health trusts shows nine million meals – 8% of those served – are sent back without being eaten. At seven of these trusts, the amount wasted is more than 20%. The reasons for this are unknown, but the absence of protected mealtimes, failure to help frail patients, not giving people enough time to finish, and poor-quality catering are being suggested as possible explanations.
According to the findings, the organisation with the worst record is Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, where 29% of meals are wasted. At Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 27% of food is thrown away, while at University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust 25% remains untouched.
At the other end of the scale, the best performers are Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, and Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust, where less than 1% of meals are returned. And it is these hospitals that will set the benchmark for future standards, according to Health Minister, Simon Burns.
He said: “Those hospitals with high levels of waste should be looking to learn from the ones that don’t. All hospitals should also make sure that every patient gets the help they need to eat properly, and offer good-quality, nutritious food.” His comments are supported by the charity, Age UK. Spokesman, Michelle Mitchell, said: “Protecting hospital mealtimes must be a priority on every ward to ensure patients have the help they need.”
Analysing the figures, there seems little correlation between the amount spent per head on meals and the quality of cuisine and degree of wastage. As an example, worst-performer Ipswich spends £17.20 per person per day, but has the highest proportion of meals sent back. Top of the list for spend per patient is Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership, which claims to invest £19 per patient. At the bottom of the scale is Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, which spends £2.93 per patient, per day.
Judy Aldred, managing director of SSentif, said: “The fact that trusts spending a generous amount on hospital meals still report high percentages of meals being returned untouched would seem to suggest that the issue is less one of food quality and is more closely linked to protected patient mealtimes - either they aren’t working or hospitals are failing to enforce them.”
Responding to the concerns, a spokesman for the Ipswich trust said: “At the time of our most recent Eric return, based on a one-day snapshot, waste was indeed at 29%, but since then the trust has been working with its hotel services contractor to reduce that figure, which will now be considerably lower.”
A statement from Cornwall added: “At the time of the most recent return, food waste was 27%. We are working with our ward staff and hotel services to reduce this figure.
“Patients have told us that on the whole we provide good-quality food, so we are working hard to improve the way meals are ordered so they more accurately reflect the actual number of patients on the wards and take into account patients who are participating in activities off the hospital site or who go out during the day. We have also recently changed our food supplier.
“We will be contacting some of the hospitals with the lowest levels of waste to determine what additional things we can do to reduce this figure while continuing to provide high-quality, nutritious food for our patients.”