§ Harry Cohen
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the average cost per hospital meal is(a) before and (b) after the implementation of the Government's better hospital food programme; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Ms Blears
The better hospital food programme, announced in the NHS Plan, is designed to improve the quality and availability of food in hospitals. It is a long term programme, the first stage of which requires hospitals, by 31 December 2001 to ensure that their meal services meet or exceed required standards and meet nutritional requirements, to provide a 24-hour catering service so that patients can obtain food when they need it, to adopt the national design for menus, and to provide on their menus dishes designed for the National Health Service by the team of leading chefs.
The initial stage of the programme is therefore about bringing standards up to the required level in places where they do not currently meet these.
The costs of each component part of the programme will vary from hospital to be hospital, and will be affected by a range of factors including current levels of investment in catering services, the type of catering service in use and the number of patients choosing dishes designed by the leading chefs.
Since hospitals are not required to implement the programme until 31 December 2001, and because at this stage costs will vary considerably, precise details regarding the average additional costs are not currently available. These will become available in the coming months.
Once standards have been brought to a more equal level across the service, it will be easier to accurately forecast any additional costs of future improvements.