patients in Yorkshire are being catered for at a cost of almost £20 a day while hospitals elsewhere in the UK spend as little as 86p per meal, NHS figures show.
Only one health body in the country served meals more expensive than the £19.81-per-day fare offered by Kirklees Primary Care Trust (PCT) in West Yorkshire.
Food and drink at the region’s largest NHS hospitals typically cost between £6 and £12 per patient, with dishes in Leeds, York and Hull being the most expensive.
But health trusts in the South spent considerably less, most notably Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust (£2.57), Harrow Primary Care Trust (£2.75), North Somerset PCT (£2.76), North West London Hospital NHS Trust (£3.13) and Herefordshire PCT (£3.66).
The 2010-11 figures, compiled by the NHS Information Centre, show more than 30 hospital trusts – almost one in 10 of the total – spend less than £5 a day on breakfast, lunch and dinner for each patient in their care.
Health campaigners said the low figures explained why complaints about hospital food were so common.
The statistics were disclosed within days of a report by the independent Future Forum, which warned that NHS nurses lacked compassion and basic skills.
The chief executive of the Patients Association, Katherine Murphy, said: “Sadly, catering is not seen as a priority by the NHS, but it’s a false economy.
“It’s vitally important that people in hospital get a balanced diet – otherwise they will have only to stay in hospital longer.
“It’s no surprise that so many people complain about the quality of the food and say they are not able to eat. Patients don’t expect restaurant-quality meals, but they do expect and deserve decent and nutritious food.”
The meals provided by NHS Kirklees were served to patients at Holme Valley Memorial Hospital in Holmfirth.
The hospital, which cares for a small number of mainly elderly patients, has since been taken over by the not-for-profit care business Locala.
A spokesman for NHS Kirklees said: “With a small number of beds, it is difficult to achieve the same economies of scale as the larger hospitals.”
Three of the region’s health bodies reported that about a quarter of the food they provided was wasted.
They were Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Trust, South West Yorkshire NHS Trust, and Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Health Care NHS Trust.
The Department of Health said the amount of money hospitals spend on food had risen by more than 30 per cent from £6.53 per patient per day in 2005-06, to £8.58 in 2010-11.
Government rules require NHS bodies to reduce salt, fat and sugar content in the food they serve and increase the amount of fruit, vegetables, fibre and oily fish on offer.
Health Minister Simon Burns said: “The amount of money hospitals are spending on food has gone up over the past five years, and waste is going down, but this rise in the amount spent on food does not necessarily mean better food for patients.
“Many trusts have excellent food and are serving healthy, fresh meals to their patients while staying within budget. These trusts set a precedent for others to follow and the whole NHS should be learning from the best trusts.”
Paul Hatcher, director of estates and facilities at Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, said its figures represented only the cost of ingredients, and not the total amount spent on sourcing, preparing, cooking and serving food and drink.