Prince Charles has encouraged NHS organisations to introduce pay for performance for the quality of hospital food.

The prince hosted an event yesterday at Clarence House, with the Department of Health and Soil Association, to highlight the importance of improving hospital food.

He urged clinical commissioning groups, trusts and health and wellbeing boards to adopt an “exemplar” commissioning for quality and innovation payment scheme which has been published by NHS England.

CQUIN schemes, applied to contracts by CCGs, mean providers lose a proportion of their income if defined standards are not met.

In the NHS England model scheme for hospital food, to achieve payment trusts must meet the government’s buying standards for food and catering, which include using in-season fresh produce, sustainably sourced fish and low salt and fat levels.

The prince said: “You can imagine just how delighted I was that last month NHS England launched an initiative, CQUIN, which for the first time actually encouraged commissioners to make hospital food a clinical priority.”

He said that “food is a medicine in itself”.

The event also heard examples of trusts saving money while improving food standards.

The Soil Association introduced a food for life catering mark in 2009, which guarantees that organisations who hold the mark offer fresh, nutritious and additive-free food. Nottingham University Hospitals Trust was the first trust to receive this catering mark.

Its catering manager John Hughes said providing locally-sourced hospital food saved it £320,000 a year, following an initial investment of £1.4m.

Barts Health Trust, Imperial College Healthcare Trust and Nottingham University Hospitals Trust all outsource their catering services and have specified in tenders that the catering mark must be met.

NHS Clinical Commissioners president and NHS Alliance chair Michael Dixon said: “These are financially challenging times but providing food in this way need not cost, and in fact does not cost any more than providing the unhealthy food that we have been providing in the past and which has been a running sore ever since I’ve been a doctor.”

Prince Charles said that the ex-catering manager of the Royal Brompton and Harefield Trust, Mike Duckett, was an “inspiration” to him after he managed to re-open a shutdown hospital kitchen, hire an organic chef and then create a network of farmers in Kent who could supply the hospital with food – all within the trust’s existing budget.

The prince, referring to work to improve hospital food, said: “I do pray that this whole new initiative will gather impetus and force as a result of so many of you helping to lead the way and I’m sure this will feed enormously into improving not only people’s health but also reducing the levels of malnutrition amongst the elderly.”