My Lords, my noble friend has raised an important question. As noble Lords will know, as part of the work undertaken in preparing the NHS Plan, we received thousands and thousands of comments from the public about the future of the NHS. Food was probably one of the most popular issues of concern to have been raised, alongside the cleaning of hospital wards, in which your Lordships also take a great deal of interest.
I believe that the NHS must tackle those issues seriously. In August we launched Operation Clean-up with the intention of injecting extra money into spring-cleaning and creating a good foundation on which to improve the standard of cleanliness in hospital wards.
Equally, we accepted and stated in the NHS Plan that we are determined to examine the provision of food in our hospitals. We are considering the potential of a national menu, which would tackle some of the issues raised by my noble friend. However, it is not only a question of what is on the menu. After all, the public as a whole have very different views about the type of food that they would like to receive in hospital. I believe that in large part the issue concerns what happens on the ward and the authority of the ward sister in determining what happens on the ward.
I believe that, alongside improvements in hospital catering and cleaning, we require the concept of the "modern matron". We need nurses who are able to manage wards with control and authority over the issues that we have been discussing as much as over clinical and nursing matters. I believe that the combination of improved standards and improved authority will enable us to improve the outcome for patients.