HOT cross buns were off the menu for hospital patients this Easter after bosses decided they were not essential for diet and recovery.

The fruit and spice treats which cost just 20p each would have taken a £320 bite out of the catering budget to provide one for each patient.

The Easter snacks have been served for many years at Burnley General Hospital, and were introduced three years ago at the Royal Blackburn Hospital.

Burnley Council leader Coun Gordon Birtwistle condemned the decision as "pathetic", but patients and church leaders said they were unconcerned by the change.

Coun Birtwistle said: "It's mean and pathetic and unfortunately it's the way that the hospitals work in this area.

"When you are in hospital and you are feeling ill and depressed then something as simple as a cup of tea and a hot cross bun at Easter reminds you what's going on in the world and really cheers you up."

Director of facilities and estates for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust Chris Hodgson, said the catering budget was used to purchase healthy, quality food, capable of providing the correct nutrition to help patients recover from illnesses and operations.

He explained: "Many factors are taken into account when deciding what food to provide. We look at nutritional value and value for money.

"Hot cross buns are not seen as an essential part of a patient's diet and therefore the decision was taken not to include them but instead continue to provide the high-quality menu as we do all through the year."

John Amos, chairman of the trust's public and patient involvement forum, agreed, saying: "To me, hot cross buns don't have a particular Easter message any more, because you can buy them all year round.

"I would not think it would make a lot of difference to patients."

The Bishop of Burnley the Rt Rev John Goddard added: "Patients look to the trust to make sure there is the highest level of medical and pastoral care.

"If hot cross buns have to be cut out of the catering budget in order to make sure we have a proper pastoral and chaplaincy service, then so be it."