Hospital caterers fear that trusts may not not be able to fund the extra costs of implementing the NHS menu, with dishes created by celebrity chefs costing significantly more than traditional meals.

Dishes from the national menu, launched in May with 'leading chef ' items designed by TV personality Loyd Grossman's team, were to feature on menus this month.

But NHS Estates has delayed implementation until December.

In a letter to branches about the NHS's Better Hospital Food programme, Hospital Caterers Association chair Pam Miller says:

'I am aware many members are concerned about how the project is to be funded and it is quite clear the requirements of this programme, in the majority of cases, cannot be funded from existing budgets.'

The HCA is keen to improve the standard of hospital food, the letter says. 'This project would help us to do that, however it is quite clear that we will need the funding that will go along with that.'

Ms Miller told HSJ: 'If you are given the tools to do the job - in this case, the money - then It is perfectly possible. Trust boards will have to decide. There is a number [of catering managers] having problems with their trust board.'

The HCA's Sandra Roberts said:

'The actual dish costs are higher than our current dish costs. I do not think anyone has yet costed the whole menu.' She said two hospitals had shown her costs for 'leading chef ' dish cauliflower with very cheesy sauce, 'which is near as damnit cauliflower cheese'. At most hospitals, the traditional dish costs around 30p per portion, but the new dish costs 53p.

'If you were replacing a 50p dish, it wouldn't make much difference, but if every recipe is on average 20p more expensive. . . That is 60p extra per day -£4.20 a week.'

On this basis, the difference for a 400-bed hospital would be more than£87,000 a year, she said.

Another catering manager added: 'What we have found is with chefs' specials, on average they were 40p a portion more expensive.'

Andy Powell, facilities manager at Leicester Royal Infirmary menu development site, said his hospital was carrying out a 'limited trial on one of the wards'. 'The general feedback from patients is that It is much appreciated.' But he confirmed:

'There will be some increased cost.

There is some additional costing on the chefs' specials.'

This amounted to around 30 per cent, but this might change if manufacturer's production costs were reduced as the menu was more widely implemented, he added.

A Department of Health spokesperson said there would be no extra money to fund the new menu.The leading chef dishes 'were costed and budgeted for within the existing NHS catering budget'. The timescale for implementation had been adjusted because of trust feedback that the August date was not feasible, she said.