NHS hospitals are cleaner and are serving patients better food, ministers have claimed.
Figures released by the Department of Health suggest 60% of hospitals had ‘good’ standards of cleanliness last year, up from just 44% in 2001.
The remaining 40% were found to have ‘acceptable’ levels of cleanliness while none was classed as poor.
However, the department’s own statistics show hospitals are lagging behind when it comes to improving patient food.
Just 17% of hospitals serve meals that are regarded as being ‘good’ quality. While the vast majority have an ‘acceptable’ standard of catering, 2% offer patients food classed as ‘poor’ many of which are in and around London.
Health Minister Lord Hunt said these hospitals would be expected to improve by the end of this year.
“We are working closely with each ‘red’ food hospital. They all have action plans in place with a clear timetable for fixing the issues uncovered.
“Ongoing support is being provided and we do not expect any red hospitals to remain by the end of the year.”
Celebrity food critic Loyd Grossman, who helped to devise gourmet menus for the NHS as part of the Better Hospital Food Programme, welcomed the figures.
“I have always said we cannot achieve all the changes required overnight and there is still more to do before we provide high standards which always meet patient needs and generally exceed their expectations,” he said.
“We now have a clear baseline against which to take forward the second stage of the Better Hospital Food Programme.”
Opposition parties dismissed the government’s claims on hospital cleanliness.
Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: “If standards of cleanliness in hospitals are as good as ministers claim, why is the level of hospital acquired infections so high?
“Only last month experts warned that infections and superbugs will continue to hit NHS hospitals unless handwashing facilities are modernised.”
He added: “It’s shocking that only one in six hospitals offers food that is considered ‘good’ quality. Ministers should be ashamed.”
Paul Burstow of the Liberal Democrats said: “While the government boasts about ‘cleaner hospitals’, rates of infection continue to rise alarmingly.”
He added: “Patients go to hospital to get better, not to get even more ill. Dirty hospitals and poor hygiene practices are putting people’s lives at risk.
“The government’s response has been complacent, and they have tried to gloss over the problem rather than deal with the real issues.”
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.