NHS hospitals 'throw away one in four meals'
More than 30 million patient meals are being thrown away each year at NHS hospitals - representing one in every four meals, according to new figures.
The Campaign for Better Hospital Food said analysis of 159 acute trusts in England showed they each chuck away 191,000 meals a year on average.
Co-ordinator Alex Jackson said the "shocking figures lift the lid on the appalling state of hospital food in our country".
Last summer, the Government announced new rules to banish unacceptable food in the NHS, which meant they have to meet mandatory food standards.
But the campaign group said they are far too weak and fail to deliver radical improvements to hospital food. They want meals to be monitored by an independent organisation instead.
Mr Jackson said today's figures, which were calculated using information from waste production body WRAP, the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) and the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), were far higher than the previously reported one in 12 meals being sent back.
He added: "The Government has been steadfast in its refusal to have the quality of hospital food and hospital food waste monitored by an independent organisation.
"Instead it's happy to use dodgy statistics to bury the true extent of patient dissatisfaction with what they're being served.
"Patients need nourishing, wholesome meals which are appetising and tasty to eat, not soulless, factory-made food they clearly can't stomach."
He said that while some more environmentally-conscious trusts use anaerobic digestion to dispose of the unwanted food, the majority pay contractors to collect their waste food and dispose of it at landfill sites.
Currently, the Government asks hospitals to monitor their own food waste and they calculate how much food is wasted in preparing meals before they are wheeled out to patients. They are not asked to inspect the amount of food wasted by patients.
Mr Jackson added: "We want the Government to fix hospital food for good by setting higher hospital food standards, putting them into legislation and getting meals independently inspected by an organisation trusted by patients and NHS staff."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We know hospital food is very important. Hospitals should make sure they are providing healthy, nutritious and tasty meals and should do all they can to avoid waste.
"We have taken strong action to improve hospital food. Years of dedicated work by patients and experts has led to the first ever legally-binding hospital food standards in the history of the NHS."