Hospital food disparities revealed
Some hospital trusts spend as little as £4.15 per day feeding patients - less than half the national average.
Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust in London spent £4.15 per inpatient per day in 2012/13, compared to a national average spend of £9.87.
The data, released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), showed some NHS trusts spend over three times as much per inpatient per day as other trusts.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said there were question marks over the "huge variances" in the amount spent.
She said: "It is hard to see how it can be justified that in some hospitals more than three times as much is spent on feeding patients as others.
"The logical assumption to make is that the quality of food in those hospitals spending less must be inferior.
"This is deeply concerning when you consider the obvious impact that good quality, nutritious food can have on the wellbeing of patients.
"There needs to be some consideration given as to whether enforcing a minimum spending level on food for trusts would be appropriate."
As well as Barnet and Chase Farm, other low spenders included the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (£4.65), Ealing Hospital NHS Trust in London (£4.65) and the Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, a specialist neurology and neurosurgery trust, in Liverpool (£4.83).
The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, a mental health trust, spent £4.37 per patient per day while the NHS in Barking and Dagenham, east London, invested £4.63.
Others spending around the £5 per day mark included Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (£5.02), Birmingham Women's NHS Foundation Trust (£5.15) and Ashford and St Peter's Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey (£5.05).
Stockport NHS Foundation Trust spent £5.34 and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust spent £5.53.
Alex Jackson, co-ordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, said: "A survey of patients by the Care Quality Commission this year showed that there is no relationship between the amount of money spent on hospital food and its popularity with patients.
"The best patient meals are often those that are freshly cooked in a hospital's own kitchen.
"Patient meals cooked in this way are often also the cheapest to make, because they give hospital cooks the option to find the best deals from local suppliers.
"The Government must introduce mandatory standards for all hospital food to end this postcode lottery and make sure all patients get nourishing, high quality meals."
The data showed that those spending more than the average included Barts Health NHS Trust in London (£13.98), Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (£14.26), King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London (£15.69) and Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust (£14.03).
South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust spent £14.04 and the scandal-hit Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust spent £15.22.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the average cost of feeding one patient per day has increased by £1.10 from £8.77 to £9.87.
She added: "It is crucial that patients receive tasty, nutritious food as part of their care.
"Although the NHS is spending more on patient meals, there is still too much variation across the country. Our patient-led inspections are already helping to drive up standards and reduce variation in hospital food."
Graeme Sainter, head of Saga health insurance, said a Saga survey of 6,000 over-50s had revealed 29% rated hospital food as poor.
He added: "The data released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre explains why the over 50s, arguably the biggest users of the NHS, have regularly reported concerns to us about the standard of food in NHS hospitals.
"Some 70% of over-50s say that good, nutritious hospital food is important to them".
Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, which has members working in hospital kitchens, said: "Providing fresh, well-balanced and tasty food plays a vital part in any patient's recovery.
"To do this, Unison is calling for every hospital to have its own kitchen instead of shipping in food from remote sites and reheating.
"Price is not the sole criteria to patient satisfaction. What is important is having the flexibility to provide for individual patients' needs and the trained staff in place to deliver it."