Health leaders are preparing for hospitals to stop purchasing imported foods for patient meals if the UK fails without an EU agreement.

Caterers were ordered to search for "substitute foods to maintain nutrition balance" of the meals. Fears that stocks will be disrupted by a no-deal Brexit show a government letter.

Also schools, the armed forces and "any kind of public catering" will be affected, it is said in a committee of the deputies.

The director of the public sector catering service said he was "very, very worried" that supplies would be affected, even if the backup plans would work for several weeks.

Andy Jones from Public Sector 100 told The Observer About 40 percent of hospital patient food is imported from the EU, including chicken and lettuce, and many just-in-time to ensure fast delivery.

"It's not just about whether we can get enough if there's no deal, but whether we can afford it," he said.

"Good food is important for the patients. Food is like medicine. If patients do not get it, in some cases they will not come home.

"One thing we'll see is that the election disappears. People are given only what we can get their hands on. "

Sarah Wollaston, the conservative chairman of the All-Party Health Select Committee who sent the letter, said: "It is becoming increasingly clear that we are not only facing drug shortages, but also many other things that hospitals need. to work.

"The food is one of them. The cost and expense of trading are mind-boggling. Surely there is a better use of time and money. "

The letter sent to the committee was sent by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to all hospitals, which said that the potential food shortage is "centrally managed".

It states: "Instructions are given to major manufacturers of patient meals to make arrangements for an emergency to address the shortage of certain ingredients.

"Hospital caterers, patient food and catering professionals, and PFI providers will be provided with guidance on measures to be taken in the preparation of substitute foods to maintain the balanced nutritional choices of patient menus / meals."

In the latest evidence before the committee, Saffron Cordery, vice chairman of NHS providers, the trade association for NHS trusts, said: "It's a common problem – it's not just about providing hospitals.

"This will be any kind of public catering, including schools and armed forces. We look at the piece. "

Ms. Cordery said the preparations would not be limited to weeks, adding, "We talk about contingencies over a longer period of time."

When questioned about drug shortages, she told MEPs, "I actually have a number of worst nightmares.

"The timing and the schedule are critical. Frankly, there is not enough time for planning at the national level, although it is now accelerating. "

A Health and Welfare Department spokesperson said, "As part of our contingency planning, we take all necessary steps with NHS England, suppliers and pharmaceutical companies to ensure that patients continue to receive the high standards of care they expect."

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