Croydon University Hospital spent only an average of £1.73 per meal on food for patients last year, new figures show.
This is the lowest spend per person among nearby hospitals and lower than many in the UK.
Data released by the NHS Information Centre showed that the hospital spent just £5.18 per head on three meals a day and a drink for each patient.
In contrast, the figure given for St Helier Hospital in Sutton is £11.08 per patient per day, while the Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough spent £9.06. The average amount spent was £8.58, with Wiltshire Primary Care Trust spending the most, £22.31.
Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, which operates the hospital, has now implemented a new in-house meal service and increased the amount spent on each patient to £5.96 a day – up 27p per meal.
Croydon North MP Malcolm Wicks told the Croydon Advertiser: “The constraints on hospital budgets across the country mean it’s very difficult for them, but hospitals can’t skimp on food.
“At face value, the amount spent at Croydon University Hospital seems to be a pitifully small amount of money and I think they need to address that further.
“I think at the very least the Croydon University Hospital management should regard this as a wake-up call, which raises questions about the adequacy of the meals on offer.”
In response, however, a spokesperson for Croydon Health Services said: “Our colleagues at Epsom and St Helier … included staff costs and overheads in their calculation of spend per head, whilst our figure does not include this money, so the two figures are not comparable.”
The trust also said: “We currently spend an average of £5.96 per patient per day which compares with many other acute hospitals and represents great value for money. The company that provides the meals to us guarantees fresh and high quality food for our patients.
“We will spend more on people who have special dietary needs such as supplements or special meals requirements.
“Feedback from most patients is that they prefer these meals to the previous system, but we are continuing to monitor this as we roll the new menus out to all wards.”
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 whilst staying within budget. These trusts set a precedent for others to follow and the whole NHS should be learning from the best trusts.”