Tonnes of hospital meals are going straight in the bin every year, new figures show.
According to NHS data, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust recorded 66kg of unserved food going to waste over one seven-day period in March 2018 – the equivalent of 3.4 tonnes every year.
The figure covers just the excess meals left on the trolley at the end of a meal service, and does not include food that patients leave on their plates.
The trust says patients may not always want their meal due to their medication or treatment, and it is always looking for ways to reduce waste.
The NHS figures reveal that the trust spent £2.1million on food services in the 12 months to March, including labour, delivery and management costs.
During this time, there were 651,032 meals requested by patients.
This would give an average cost of £9.56 per patient for a three-meal day, if no meals were wasted, compared to an England-wide average of £12.59.
A trust spokesperson said: “North Tees and Hartlepool Trust provides 651,032 patient meals per year, which equates to nearly 12,500 patient meals each week.
“Patient meal orders are taken no more than two hours in advance of each meal to reduce the risk of waste.
“Unfortunately, there are occasions where, due to medication or medical treatment, the patient may no longer want their meal. “The Trust is continuously looking at ways to minimise food waste through innovative supplier solutions, modernised equipment and improvements in services via the use of technology – reducing food waste means the costs can be reinvested into patient care.”
The Government has announced a ten-year plan for the NHS, which includes a commitment to tackle waste.
More than 7,130 tonnes of food are currently going in the bin across the NHS in England every year, the data suggests.
Food waste is a “big problem” in the NHS, according to the food and farming charity Soil Association, which campaigns for better food in hospitals.
Rob Percival, policy officer at the Soil Association, said it is often linked to the method NHS trusts relying on pre-prepared meals that are delivered to sites which may not have the freezer capacity to keep any surplus.
He said: “Trusts should be investing in fresh preparation of meals as opposed to bulk purchasing, which gives catering staff a greater degree of control.
“Then you won’t be dealing with the scenario where you have 1,000 plated meals delivered but you only have 300 orders from patients and the rest goes in the bin.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Improvement said: “While there will be legitimate reasons why NHS trusts spend different amounts on food, ensuring that all patients receive high-quality meals is the priority.
“We have recently launched a Healthcare Food Standards Strategy group to support trusts and drive improvement.”