Page last updated at 10:12 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 11:12 UK

Hospital food waste is almost 1m

by Matt Precey
BBC News

Hospital food generic
Some patients can choose the size of the meal they want
A BBC investigation has revealed that 1m of food is wasted each year by NHS hospitals across the East of England.

The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show huge differences in the way meals are controlled and the proportion of food being thrown away.

The cost of the wastage could pay for 50 extra nurses and comes just weeks after Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged the country to conserve food amid fast-rising prices.

One of the best performing hospitals among those surveyed was Northampton General which has a wastage rate of 3.5%, amounting to 14,000 per year.

The hospital spends an average of 1.70 per patient per day and serves 432,000 meals a year.

Each ward has a "meal hostess" and patients can order their meat and vegetables separately from a range of 25 meal choices.

They can also choose large or small portions and regular tasting sessions are held involving staff.

Northampton was also one of the hospitals which took part in a trial of gourmet menus devised by top chefs under the supervision of TV presenter Loyd Grossman.

How much food is wasted
Ipswich Hospital - 14.7% of meals served (133,500)
Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge - 12% (190,452)
Southend University Hospital - 11% (68,320)
Norfolk and Norwich Hospital 9%
Northampton General Hospital 3.5% (14,000)

The hospital said these were dropped after patients said they preferred the more traditional foods on offer, such as steak and kidney pudding.

Ipswich Hospital, which has the highest food wastage rate among the hospitals surveyed, said: "We send a choice of food to each ward each meal time to ensure we give our patients choice, particularly those who have been admitted on that day and have not had the opportunity to fill out a request card.

"This inevitably results in some waste.

"We also ensure we send more meals than patients to each ward in case some patients have larger appetites."

Southend Hospital has achieved a significant reduction in its food wastage.

At one point, the Trust was having to throw away almost a quarter of all the food it served but since the introduction of a new system based on steaming its meals, and patients choosing from a menu the day before, the rate of wastage has halved, to around 11%.

At Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, more than 190,000 of food is thrown away each year.

Ipswich Hospital wasted almost 15% of its food

The hospital told the BBC that they cook around 10% more food than needed "to improve patient choice".

Patient meals at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital are provided by private contractor, Serco.

Their wastage rate stands at 9% but they were unable to disclose the value of the discarded food.

The company said: "We have carried out extensive research and discussion with both the Trust and Octagon (the private sector consortium which manages the hospital) to determine what information should be made available under the Freedom of Information Act.

"The result of this is that it any information relating to the cost of wastage at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital is not a requirement and therefore is not recorded by Serco."

Bedford Hospital told the BBC that "we do not record these figures".

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