As part of the new standards, launched by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, every patient would be screened for malnutrition and have an individual food plan that met their social, cultural and clinical needs.
These would be legally written into hospital contracts to ensure patients get the help they require to eat and drink.
The British Nutrition Foundation’s nutrition scientist, Bridget Benelam, said the standards were an important initiative that combined a number of guidance documents on issues including assessing patients’ nutritional status, hydration and nutrition guidance for dieticians, catering guidance on food for patients and for the food provided for staff and visitors.
“Providing food in hospitals presents a unique challenge because the needs of patients will be so varied, both from a nutrition and health point of view and also other issues such as problems swallowing, needing help eating meals and all the tests and procedures that also need to fit into a hospital day,” she said.
“The documents included in the new standards cover a range of important nutritional issues for hospitals and being held to these standards should help to ensure the nutritional quality of hospital food.”
Appropriate care plans for patients were needed, which may include foods with special textures or composition and help for people to eat their meals, she claimed.
“It’s also important that patients are given time to eat and some hospitals have protected meal times in place so that no tests or procedures are carried out during meal times,” she added.
Tempting, appetising and tasty
“As well as following nutritional standards, it’s also very important that hospital food is tempting to eat, appetising and tasty as many in hospitals, especially older adults, may have low appetites.”
The other requirements of the standards would be that food was sourced sustainably and that hospital canteens promoted healthy diets for staff and visitors that complied with government guidelines on salt and sugar.
However, the standards came under attack for only being written into the NHS Standard Contract and not made legislation, by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food.