Heston Blumenthal revealed in June that he had taken on a secret mission to devise a menu for National Health Service patients in Britain.

With the decade coming to an end, perhaps ministers believed that only the head chef of Britain's most garlanded restaurant, The Fat Duck, was capable of clearing hospital trays of plastic bread and gloopy stews.

Although Blumenthal has not divulged the results of his year-long quest to replicate Jamie Oliver's school dinners campaign in hospitals, the NHS has proved a graveyard for the public-spirited work of fellow chefs Albert Roux and Loyd Grossman.

All of them have failed to reinvigorate the quality of food on the wards, according to a blistering report by the food group Sustain.

It suggests that the Government has wasted £50 million ($113 million) since 2000 on at least 17 initiatives to improve hospital food which have "resulted in almost no improvement to the quality of meals served, or to their nutritional and environmental value".

The report, A Decade of Hospital Food Failure, lists the schemes that have failed to transform NHS food - a failure graphically illustrated mid-year by a patient who invited visitors to his blog to identify his meals in a game of "Hospital Food Bingo".

"Traction Man", who was being treated in the southwest, stressed that his medical care had been "fabulous", but added on the food: "Everything is minced and slushy and overcooked, and I guess that is the way that a lot of older patients need and want it. If you are a bit younger in need of vitamins and nutrition ... it ain't going to work."

Ministers acknowledged that patients fed a nutritious diet recovered more quickly and, with this aim, launched the £40 million NHS Better Hospital Food campaign fronted by Masterchef presenter Loyd Grossman in 2001. Five years later the scheme was scrapped after the Hospital Caterers Association estimated fewer than half NHS trusts were making three recommended dishes. A quarter were making none.

Similarly, the £2.5 million Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative, launched in 2003 to improve the sustainability of public sector food was scrapped in 2009, after proving inadequate.

In the past two years, independent reports have castigated hospital food. In 18 of the 21 hospitals checked by dietitians for the consumer group Which? last October, 86 per cent of meals contained too much salt, 67 per cent too much saturated fat and 52 per cent too much fat, according to Food Standard Agency guidelines. Which? said the results were "farcical" given the role of hospitals in promoting health.

In August, Bournemouth University suggested patients were served worse food than prisoners. In a parliamentary reply in April, ministers revealed that 2600 people had died from malnutrition in hospitals and care homes in England since 2000.

- INDEPENDENT