More than five tonnes of hospital food are going straight in the bin every year in South Tyneside, new figures show.
According to NHS data, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust recorded 102kg of unserved food going to waste over one seven-day period in March 2018 – the equivalent of 5.3 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 figures come after the Government announced a ten-year plan for the NHS, which includes a commitment to tackle waste.
Steve Jamieson, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s Director of Estates and Facilities, said health chiefs were aware of the issue and taking steps to reducing the waste.
He said: “As a Trust, we are committed to reducing waste in all forms to an absolute minimum. All of our meals are freshly prepared on site each day and our catering department is in constant contact with our wards to establish the number of meals required.
“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, it is inevitable that some meals may not be needed due to factors such as patients being discharged home, or a change in their condition.”
He added: “We often receive praise regarding the quality and quantity of our meals. We support the local economy by using local produce and local suppliers wherever possible and, in 2017/18, we saved over £80,000 on food products, largely due to smart buying.”
The Trust spent £1.5m on food services in the 12 months to last March - including labour, delivery and management costs.
During this time, 305,844 meals were requested by patients.
This would give an average cost of £14.92 to feed one patient for a day -if no meals were wasted, compared to a UK-wide average of £12.59.
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, with more than 7,130 tonnes currently going in the bin across the NHS in England every year
Rob Percival, policy officer at the Soil Association, said it is often linked to the method NHS trusts use of catering services.
Many rely on pre-prepared meals that are delivered to sites which may not have the freezer capacity to keep any surplus, he said.
He added: “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.”
Maisie Borrows, research manager at the Reform think tank, said: “These figures highlight the need for reform. All NHS hospitals should strive to be as efficient as the ‘best-in-class’, looking at improving efficiency by harnessing technology and insight from data.”
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.”