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7 June 2015, 08:24
Scotland could be the first part of the UK to make nutritional standards for hospital food legally binding.
Revised guidelines, drawn up with the help of experts in diet and nutrition, are due to come into force later this year, with Public Health Minister Maureen Watt conceding that patients' meals are ''not always as good as they should be''.
Once the proposals have been brought in the Scottish Government plans to carry out a consultation on whether they should be made legally binding.
Rigorous standards for hospital food are already in place, but the new guidelines will set out improvements in a number of areas, the Scottish Government said.
Each ward will be required to carry out at least two audits a year to check the quality of the food and how it is served to patients.
In addition an independent peer review audit will be carried out annually, in a bid to make sure the meals are well presented, hot enough and served at appropriate times.
There will be a separate section covering food served in children's wards and hospitals, laying out specific nutritional requirements for different age groups, as well as providing guidance on portion size.
For the first time the standards will contain specific guidance on allergens, while it also highlights the need for hospitals to be part of the Scottish Government's efforts to become a Good Food Nation by 2025, by using more fresh, local produce.
Ms Watt said: ''Scotland already has a strong set of nutritional standards in place for hospital food. However, we keep a close eye on what patients are telling us, so we know that sometimes the meals that patients receive on the ward are not always as good as they should be.
''These new guidelines place a greater emphasis on audits of meals, so we can ensure that meals are tasty, nutritious, the right temperature, and served at the right times. I'm also pleased to see a specific section on children's catering for the first time.
''Our ambition is to consult on whether to make these new nutrition guidelines legally binding, to ensure that these standards are maintained.
''Patients should have a right to expect high quality and nutritious food that meets their specific needs and aids recovery. A good diet is the building block to a healthy life, and I want to see our hospitals