Patients to get better food options after outcry over quality
Hospital patients will have access to better menu choices and missed meals under a policy to be introduced next year.
Poor nutritional options and difficulty getting a meal in some hospitals outside of regular meal times has sparked criticism and complaints from patients.
Last year, a dietitian was appointed to lead the development of a so-called "national food, nutrition and hydration policy" which was fed into by catering staff, doctors and hospital managers.
It will apply to both patients and staff working in hospitals around the country.
The policy is expected to include improved food choice on all menus and access to regular meals and snacks.
It will also include meal replacements if a patient misses a meal.
Shorter fasting times and a policy to avoid interruptions at meal times will also be included in the guidelines.
A toolkit will be provided to hospitals and it is expected the policy will be implemented nationally in 2019.
Health Minister Simon Harris said the benefits of the policy "are endless".
"The new policy will include improved food choice on all menus, and access to regular meals and snacks is provided to all, from admission to discharge," he said.
The issue of poor food standards in Irish hospitals has been the subject of much debate in recent years.
In the Coombe maternity hospital, a new menu was introduced after a picture of a meal shared by a patient showed burnt potato wedges and a sausage roll served to patients.
But hydration policies in hospital have also come in for criticism by Hiqa, which surveyed the nutrition policies in place across 42 hospitals in 2016. It noted problems with patients accessing water, particularly in A&E settings.
In a number of emergency departments, patients who were not mobile and could not access the water cooler were not routinely being offered drinks, the report found. It noted access to water should not be dependent on visitors.
Less than one in three hospitals inspected had a system to replenish water jugs with fresh water during the afternoon to ensure that patients always had access to fresh water.