Introduction: Cancer and its treatment place significant demands on the nutritional status of patients. This can be exacerbated by admission to hospital. Study purpose: The study aimed to identify factors that are barriers and facilitators to oncology in-patients receiving adequate nutrition in an acute cancer unit. Methods: Qualitative non-participant observational techniques were used to explore practice relating to nutrition. The study was carried out on two 30 bedded wards in a UK cancer centre. Five observations, each lasting three hours, were conducted on each of the wards. Data analysis: Framework analysis techniques were used to analyse the data. Results: Nutrition was influenced by a complex interaction of factors relating to both the physical and social environment. Characteristics of each of these were identified. Conclusion: In the hospital setting nutrition takes place in a context that balances the needs of the individual patient with the needs of the organisation, the busyness of the ward and staff schedules. The ongoing formal and informal assessment of the range of barriers and facilitators to nutrition may influence nutritional intake. A positive and proactive culture around food may also be important.