Publications / Good Food for Our Money Campaign

A decade of hospital food failure - £50m of failed initiatives to improve hospital food

The report reveals that more than £50m of taxpayers' money has been spent by government on failed voluntary attempts to improve hospital food in the last ten years. It calls for decisive action to set standards to improve the health and sustainability of hospital food, for the benefit of everyone.


An updated version of this report is now available: 
Twenty years of hospital food failure: Why we need mandatory standards, not more ineffective voluntary initiatives. 
Click here to find out more

A decade of hospital food failure - a review of 10 years of failed initiatives to improve hospital foodThe report reveals that more than £50m of taxpayers' money has been spent by government on failed voluntary attempts to improve hospital food in the last ten years.

When politicians get into office, they seem to like to launch an initiative to improve hospital food, usually involving a celebrity chef to do a make-over of meals. However, this report reveals that such voluntary initiatives have wasted of at least £53 million of taxpayers’ money over the past 10 years, and probably much more (as we have not included in our calculations all the money wasted on government staff time, committees and management consultants).

Not a single scheme over the past decade has succeeded – however famous the celebrity chef – precisely because the initiatives were voluntary. Government has failed to send a clear message to hospital caterers that the quality of their food is critical to patient health and to the sustainability of our food system.

School meals, on the other hand, have consistently high nutrition standards to protect the health of the children they serve. Why? Because there is a law to ensure that our money is spent on improving food quality.

This report provides a potted history of the plethora of voluntary initiatives that government has launched over the past decade to attempt to improve the quality, healthiness and sustainability of hospital food. Although it focuses on hospitals, we are interested in the healthiness and sustainability of all public sector food. Over one billion meals are served in the UK’s public sector every year. This presents a tremendous opportunity to improve public health, encourage sustainable food production methods and provide delicious meals!

The report has been compiled by Good Food for Our Money, which is a national coalition campaign for a law to make it routine for food served in the public sector to have high health and sustainability standards. We believe public sector food is one of the key ways to transform the food and farming system so that it improves people’s health, protects our environment and
gives better value for money.

An updated version of this report is now available with new information on yet another expensive hospital food failure, the Healthier Catering Commitment.
In 2012, Sustain launched the Campaign for Better Hospital Food. Please get involved to help win compulsory health and sustainability standards for food served in hospitals!

Report contents



1. Tasty morsels of background information

  • During 1992: Health of the Nation white paper is published
  • During 1992: King’s Fund finds poor nutrition amongst hospital patients
  • During 1995: Government launches Nutrition Guidelines for Hospital Catering
  • During 1997: Hospital patients fail to achieve good nutrition
  • During 2000: Council of Europe reviews hospital food

2. The decade of failures (2000 to 2010)


  • During 2000: NHS Plan sets out care plan (costing £10m), including food targets


  • May 2001: NHS launches Better Hospital Food initiative (costing £40m), involving BBC Masterchef host Loyd Grossman, Mark Hix of the Ivy Restaurant, John Benson-Smith of Hazlewood Castle, and The Savoy's Anton Edelmann
  • During 2001: NHS launches ‘Essence of Care’ guidance


  • During 2003: Defra launches Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative (costing at least £2.5m)
  • November 2003: Advisory group shows malnutrition in hospital patients persists
  • December 2003: Council of Europe issues resolution on hospital food


  • During 2004: NHS identifies hospital food as a priority for health and sustainability


  • May 2005: Government sets up the Sustainable Procurement Task Force
  • During 2005: Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson calls for healthy and sustainable food in the public sector
  • During 2005: 65,000 people in care homes at risk of malnutrition


  • During 2006: MP Paul Burstow calls for food standards for nursing homes
  • March 2006: National Audit Office says the UK can afford sustainable public sector food
  • May 2006: Better Hospital Food initiative is scrapped
  • June 2006: Sustainable Procurement Task Force says “it’s not difficult” to achieve sustainable procurement
  • During 2006: Healthcare Commission says hospital patients need help to eat meals
  • September 2006: Age Concern shows malnutrition in hospital patients persists
In 2006, commenting on the scrapping of the £40m Better Hospital Food Initiative, Loyd Grossman, celebrity figurehead of the scheme, said: "Although we made significant improvements in delivering better quality food to many hospitals, there is still a very long way to go in improving patient nutrition. The Government has made no other plans for improving standards and I am extremely concerned that without a strong, and persistent, voice promoting the issue, it will slip through the cracks."


  • During 2007: Royal College of Nursing launches Nutrition Now! campaign
  • May 2007: Public Accounts Committee recommends high animal welfare, fair trade and healthy eating standards in the public sector
  • October 2007: The Department of Health launches a Nutrition Action Plan


  • August 2008: The Department of Health launches online nutrition training
  • July 2008: Cabinet Office Food Matters report promises action
  • July 2008: BBC reveals hospitals waste £1m worth of food every year
  • During 2008: Which? investigates the unhealthy state of hospital food
  • October 2008: Nutrition Action Plan delivery board reports on ‘awareness raising’


  • January 2009: Sustainable Development Commission urges government to show leadership
  • January 2009: Hilary Benn sets up Council of Food Policy Advisors
  • April 2009: Public health minister commissions sustainable food guidelines for hospitals
  • April 2009: Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative falters
  • April 2009: Royal College of Nursing Nutrition Now! campaign is scrapped
  • April 2009: Office of Government Commerce launches collaborative procurement project
  • February 2009: Government drafts Healthier Food Mark guidelines
  • April 2009: Malnutrition in hospitals and care homes continues to rise
  • May 2009: Healthcare professionals condemn NHS nutrition initiatives
  • May 2009: Largest catering company in the world supports legally binding standards
  • June 2009: Celebrity chef Simon Rimmer asked to revamp Liverpool’s hospital food
  • June 2009: Heston Blumenthal hired to sort out hospital food
  • August 2009: Government issues tender for voluntary Healthier Food Mark pilots
  • August 2009: Expert nutrition reviewers cite lack of leadership for malnutrition deaths in hospitals
  • August 2009: University researchers say hospital food is worse than prison food
  • September 2009: Council of Food Policy Advisors recommends legally binding standards
  • October 2009: Defra ignores recommendation to adopt legally binding standards
  • December 2009: Decade of hospital food failures draws to a close, but more is to come…

A decade of hospital food failure - £50m of failed initiatives to improve hospital food
2009 | 649Kb


Published 1 Dec 2009

Good Food for Our Money Campaign: The Good Food for Our Money campaign ran from 2008 to 2011. After several notable successes, this campaign has now evolved to focus on winning healthy and sustainable food standards for hospital food, in parallel with Sustain's existing work on the Children's Food Campaign to secure healthy and sustainable food standards for school meals.



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