Boris Johnson says something as simple as delivering “hot buttered toast for the patients of this country” will help improve people’s experience of the NHS.
His remarks came as it was disclosed Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith will advise a Government review into hospital food following the deaths of six people due to a listeria outbreak.
A “root and branch” review launched by the Department of Health and Social Care on Friday will examine whether the number of hospitals catering in-house can be increased.
Mr Johnson was speaking during a visit to Torbay Hospital in Devon, where he met catering and hospital staff and patients.
The Prime Minister said: “We get too many complaints from patients about the quality of the food and I think it does affect their experience when they are in hospital.
“And sometimes it can be something as simple as not having hot toast, and having toast actually made on the wards, so one thing you want to deliver is hot buttered toast for the patients of this country.”
During his visit Mr Johnson put on a green plastic apron to serve a ham salad lunch to patient Wenona Pappin, 70, from Paignton.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock called for the comprehensive review in June after six people died after contracting listeria from pre-packaged sandwiches and salads either purchased on site or given out by hospital staff.
The review will also consider whether kitchen facilities can be changed to bring more chefs into hospitals as well as using less frozen food and sourcing local fresh produce where possible.
Mr Johnson said: “The NHS does an amazing job, and they produce about 140 million meals a year. Some, of course, most patients, have a fantastic experience, the quality of the meals is too variable.
“So what we want to do is drive up standards across the board, and so we are having a review by Philip Shelley. He’s going to be assisted from a culinary point of view by Prue Leith.”
Mr Johnson added: “Some patients don’t actually eat in hospital when they really do need to, because they do not feel the food is appetising enough, particularly elderly patients.”
Celebrity cook Prue Leith has previously criticised the standard of hospital meals and called for NHS trusts to make appealing and nutritious food on-site for patients.
She said: “Millions of pounds are wasted in hospitals with food ending up in the bin, unpalatable food being the main complaint.
“I’m delighted that, at long last, Downing Street and the Department of Health have decided to do something about it.
“A hospital meal should be a small highlight, a little pleasure and comfort, and it should help, not hinder, the patient’s recovery.”
The review will examine the quality of the estimated 140 million meals provided to patients each year, as well as staff meals.
The review was announced as a former health chief blamed “systematic failures” in public health for 17 deaths linked to separate outbreaks of listeria and streptococcus earlier this year.
In July, NHS Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group confirmed 13 people had died in an outbreak of invasive Group A streptococcus.
Writing in the Journal Of The Royal Society Of Medicine on Friday, Professor John Ashton, former north-west regional director of public health, warned that years of austerity and cuts to local authority budgets had stripped the ability of environmental health departments to keep up with threats.
The review was earlier welcomed by Mr Johnson.
He said: “Since entering Downing Street, my focus has been clear – to make sure our world-class NHS has everything it needs to continue providing the very best frontline care.
“Guaranteeing hospitals serve nutritional, tasty and fresh meals will not only aid patient recovery, but also fuel staff and visitors as they care for loved ones and the vulnerable.
“Our NHS has led the way since the day it was formed. This review will ensure it remains the standard-bearer for healthy choices, as it works unstintingly to improve the nation’s well-being.”
Mr Hancock said: “When people are in hospital, they should be given all the help they can to get better – and that includes food.
“So I’m determined patients enjoy the best, most delicious and nutritious food to help them recover and leave hospital as quickly as possible. I’m delighted we’ve assembled a first-rate group to drive this agenda.”
The review will be chaired by the former head of the Hospital Caterers Association and catering lead for Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Philip Shelley.
Hospital caterers, patient groups and kitchen staff will also be involved in the review.
Royal College of Nursing England director Patricia Marquis said: ” Ensuring patients and staff have access to healthy, nutritious food in hospital is essential but you don’t need a celebrity chef to tell you hospital food needs an overhaul.”
She added: “Our expectations for this review go beyond half-baked schemes no matter how noble. This won’t make a lasting impact without a full-scale investment in the health and care system.
“If the Health Secretary’s prepared to review hospital food, when can nurses expect a full review of safe staffing including the need for legislation?”
Leith is not the first celebrity to show an interest in improving hospital meals, and is not the first to advise the Government on the matter.
Almost 25 years ago, top chef Albert Roux helped promote new guidelines on hospital food with the Nutrition Task Force, which was a panel of experts set up in 1992 as part of the government’s Health Of The Nation initiative to draw up an action plan to achieve dietary targets.
MasterChef presenter Loyd Grossman advised the Government on hospital food standards too and backed a campaign in 2013 which said that hospital meals should have compulsory nutritional standards.
He was recruited by the NHS in 2001 as part of the Better Hospital Food Initiative, aimed at improving menus for patients. The programme ran until 2006.
In 2011, celebrity chef James Martin said, after helping to reinvigorate the staff and menus at Scarborough General Hospital in North Yorkshire, that he was looking to work with six others in 2012.
He spent 12 weeks working with catering staff from Scarborough General and his efforts were featured in a BBC programme.
In 2010, Heston Blumenthal also hoped to revolutionise hospital meals when he collaborated with the University of Reading and the Royal Berkshire Hospital to increase the flavour of well-loved dishes such as shepherd’s pie and make them more attractive to older people, whose sense of taste often deteriorates.
As part of the project, researchers visited his restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, to watch Blumenthal at work and see how his ideas could be transferred to hospital kitchens.
A report by the Good Food For Our Money campaign in 2009 said £50 million had been spent on failed bids to improve hospital food.
Researchers said 17 separate government initiatives since 2000 had resulted in no discernible improvement in the quality of meals served to patients.