Researchers say hospital patients do not consume enough good food
Researchers have claimed the food provided in prisons is better than in NHS hospitals.
Experts from Bournemouth University examined the quality of food offered to prisoners and NHS patients.
They say people in hospital are losing out on nutrition because they are not being helped with eating or having their diet monitored.
A Department of Health spokesman said most patients were "satisfied with the food they receive in hospitals".
Professor John Edwards said about 40% of patients entering hospital were already malnourished, and this did not tend to improve during their stay.
"If you are in prison then the diet you get is extremely good in terms of nutritional content," he said.
"The food that is provided is actually better than most civilians have.
It's incredible that so many hospitals are failing to serve healthy meals. If prisons can serve good food then so can hospitals
Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat
"There's a focus on carbohydrates. Then there's the way they prepare the food; it's very healthy. They don't add salt and there's relatively little frying of food - if you have a burger then it goes in the oven.
"Hospital patients don't consume enough. If you are using food as a means of treatment then it's not working.
"And from the work we've done we know that people who sit round a table eat a lot more, but this doesn't happen in hospitals."
Professor John Edwards: ''People often need help with eating''
His fellow researcher Dr Heather Hartwell said fruit and vegetables were made available in hospitals "but this doesn't mean it's eaten".
She also said that patients suffered because they may have no appetite as a result of their illness, and might also not get help with eating and drinking.
The research suggests further problems are caused because meals are likely to be at a set time, when patients may be having tests or treatment.
"Hospital cutbacks are also seen in areas like catering budgets, rather that elsewhere," Dr Harwell said.
"Hospital food services also need to be less fragmented and more joined up."
Liberal Democrat shadow health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "This study highlights the experience of too many patients in NHS hospitals.
"While there is excellent care in many places, there are a lot of examples of what is in effect neglect of vulnerable people.
"It's incredible that so many hospitals are failing to serve healthy meals. If prisons can serve good food then so can hospitals."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "Good quality food for patients improves their health and their overall experience of services.
"The majority of patients are satisfied with the food they receive in hospitals, and we are working to improve services further."
"Clinicians have a duty to ensure patients get the appropriate treatment for any condition, including malnutrition.
"We have also introduced the concept of 'protected mealtimes' where all non-urgent activity on the ward stops, so that patients can enjoy their meals."
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