Three in five hospitals give themselves the highest possible rating for the standard of their food, figures show.
Out of 156 NHS hospital trusts in England, 95 trusts rated the quality of the meals they served to patients as 5/5.
But the Campaign for Better Hospital Food said that the figures are a dramatic contrast to an independent Care Quality Commission survey, which showed that half of patients are dissatisfied with hospital food.
The organisation has renewed its calls for introducing mandatory hospital food standards on quality and nutrition.
Alex Jackson, co-ordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, said: “It is time for the government to come clean about the sorry state of hospital food in England and set mandatory standards for patient meals.
“This would only involve extending an existing policy which has seen it set mandatory standards for prison food and food served in government departments, to go alongside those that already exist for school food.
“Surely patients recovering in hospital have the same right to good food as government ministers, school kids and prisoners?”
Sara Gorton, deputy head of health at union Unison, added: “Giving patients healthy, fresh, more tempting food is an essential part of speeding up recovery. While costs vary, it is plain that food cooked fresh on hospital premises scores the highest with patients.
“Unison is backing calls for set standards for hospital food in England. At the same time we want more hospitals to use kitchens to prepare and cook patient meals instead of bringing in ready-meals from outside.
“Hospitals can also play an important role in using public money to buy from local farms and suppliers, boosting the local economy, rather than just trading with multinational corporations.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “There are many fantastic examples of really good food across the NHS thanks to forward-thinking and innovative staff.
“But we recognise that there is too much variation across the country - that is why we have implemented a tough new inspection programme. With our army of thousands of patient assessors we will drive up standards and reduce variation in hospital food.
“We support the principle of food standards but do not think that legislation is the right way to proceed. We believe that the best decisions on hospital food are those taken locally by chefs and catering managers.”
But Roger Goss, co-director of Patient Concern, said: “If managements are deliberately misleading us on hospital food, on what else are we being misled? Patient safety? Quality of care?
“If the government ever makes anything mandatory in the NHS, pigs will fly,” he added.
“If a miracle does occur and we get mandatory NHS meal standards, every hospital must get a ring-fenced budget to comply. Nothing else will work.”
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