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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2007, 18:17 GMT
A guide to hospital food
Staff preparing hospital food
Malnutrition in hospitals is being tackled in several ways
Up to 40% of elderly people are malnourished when they arrive at hospital, but what happens during their stay? What's Really In Our Food? investigated why some people are going hungry in hospital.

Below is a guide explaining what happens when a patient is admitted into a hospital, how the meals are prepared and what is being done to make food a bigger priority.

What should you expect when go into hospital?

When you go into hospital, a simple diagnostic test called a Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (Must) is completed. This involves weighing and measuring patients and asking a series of simple questions to find out how the patient has been eating and if they have lost any weight in the last six months.

Thursday, 29 November, 2007
0915 GMT, BBC One

Must is used to alert medical staff to possible malnutrition so that "at risk" patients can have extra care with nutrition during their stay.

Hospitals should provide three meals, seven drinks and three snacks a day and patients can ask for a portion size that suits their appetite.

Age Concern working with the Royal College of Nursing have launched an information pack on how to ask for what you need in hospital. (See links on the right-hand-side of the page)

Where does the food come from?

There are three main ways hospital food is provided. Some hospitals go for conventional catering, cooking from scratch in their own kitchens.

The other two systems are "cook-freeze", where food is prepared elsewhere and delivered to hospitals frozen and reheated close to the wards, and "cook-chill" which works in much the same way except food is chilled rather than frozen.

Some food arrives in bulk and is served up within the hospital, other meals arrived ready plated.

How the food is made is not an indication of quality and nutritional content.

Contracts to provide hospital food are only agreed when the dietician is satisfied that the system can offer an appropriate diet and it is up to each hospital to decide how best to provide food to their patients.

There are currently no nutritional standards for the NHS although the Department of Health says it has made a commitment to establishing them.

What is being done to make it better?

Nurses are working hard to raise the importance of food and drink in hospital.

The Royal College of Nurses has launched "Nutrition Now" to raise the importance of nutrition and hydration as a key part of nursing care and the National Nurses Nutrition Group is also working hard to make malnutrition in hospital a thing of the past by educating nurses.

The British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (Bapen), a group dedicated to making sure that malnutrition is diagnosed, is also working hard to make sure that the problems of malnutrition in the community are recognised.

The government has recognised that malnutrition in hospital is a serious issue and has launched a "Nutrition Action Plan" to try and improve it.

They are also working on ways to help hospitals deliver the "red tray" system and protected mealtimes. However, it is important that people who are in hospital and their relatives make sure they get the care and food they require, so do not be afraid of making a fuss where food and drink is concerned.

What's Really In Our Food? was broadcast from Monday 26 to Friday 30 November 2007 at 0915 GMT on BBC One.

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