Prisoners are better fed than NHS hospital patients, even though prisons spend less per person on meals, researchers have said.

Food offered across the NHS was compared with that given to inmates by a team from Bournemouth University. The researchers said prisoners have a more nutritional diet than hospital patients, in part due to problems such as patients not receiving help with eating and a lack of hospital monitoring to check they are well fed.

Professor John Edwards said that about 40 per cent of patients were malnourished before going into hospital but their nutrition tended not to improve during their stay.

He said: “If you are in prison then the diet you get is extremely good in terms of nutritional content, the food that is provided is actually better than most civilians have.

“Hospital patients don’t consume enough. If you are using food as a means of treatment then it’s not working.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The nutrition action plan, Improving Nutritional Care, outlines how nutritional care and hydration can be improved and highlights five key priority areas for NHS and social care staff to work with.”