Sweet and sour prisoners’ meals cost more than patients’

Hospital staff preparing food for meal times.

New Year’s Day meals served to patients at Tayside hospitals cost less than dinners prepared for Scottish prisoners, The Courier can reveal.

NHS Tayside was forced to defend its festive menus after it emerged the price of ingredients per meal came to as little as £1.22 and no more than £1.87.

The average daily cost of feeding an inmate behind bars is £2.75, according to numbers released separately by the Scottish Prison Service.

Murdo Fraser, MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, said the figures showed that improvements had to be made.

“Any situation where food for convicted murderers and rapists costs more than that for patients will not sit well with the public,” he said.

“Both prisoners and patients should have access to a healthy diet built on quality food, and that means we must see an improvement in hospital meals in 2015.”

On January 1, patients at hospitals including Perth Royal Infirmary and Ninewells in Dundee, were given a choice of meals from £3.85 worth of ingredients.

The most expensive combination steak pie, cream potatoes and strawberry cheesecake comes in at £1.87. A vegetarian meal of leak and potato soup, followed by cauliflower and broccoli bake, costs £1.22.

Patients were also given a choice of sandwiches from 64p to 75p for supper as well as fruit, shortbread and a 49p slice of Madeira cake.

In contrast, the average daily cost of feeding an adult prisoner in Scotland is £2.75.

Mr Fraser said: “The budget for prison meals has risen, whilst the Scottish Government is pressuring health boards into making cuts to their catering budgets, which is a situation that can no longer continue.”

Mr Fraser had recently praised the prison service for its sensible approach to Christmas menus.

He added: “Patients recovering from illness or operation require a certain level of sustenance to ensure their recovery and whilst not suggesting they aren’t getting this, there has to be questions over the value of meals costing as little as £1.22 to make.

“Health boards, like NHS Tayside, are under financial pressure and it would not surprise me if they are targeting catering budgets before taking money out of front line care.”

He added: “The Scottish Government wants us to live healthier lifestyles, but this must start with patients in their care enjoying the best possible diet.

“Doctors and nurses in NHS Tayside are working flat out and it is high time the Scottish Government gave them the tools to do their job.”

Drew Walker, director for public health at NHS Tayside, stressed that there had been no reduction in catering budget, nor patient meal costs over the last five years.

“Since the introduction of the food fluid and nutritional care standards in hospitals in 2003, NHS Tayside has worked to continually improve the quality of meals for patients,” he said.

“We are constantly developing our menus with input from patients, staff and the public to ensure we continue to deliver freshly prepared, nutritious and appetising meals.”

He said: “Catering staff work extremely hard to prepare a wide range of meals every day which are nutritionally balanced and cater for individual patients’ dietary requirements.”

Mr Walker said that the cost of patient meals is monitored through a raft of measures including the standardisation of recipes, ingredient control and keeping wastage to a minimum.

A £1.87 meal consists of pate and oatcakes, steak pie, creamed potatoes, carrots and peas and strawberry cheesecake for dessert.

At Castle Huntly open prison near Dundee, the New Year’s Day menu offered to inmates gave a choice of chicken Balmoral with all the trimmings, mushroom brie and cranberry wellington or a Halal curry.