Stevens proposes sugary drinks ban at hospitals to cut staff obesity

NHS England CEO Simon Stevens has announced new action to reduce obesity and the sales and consumption of sugary drinks in hospitals, the first of its kind in health services across the world.

The formal consultation, launched today, proposes levying a fee to be paid by any vendor of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) on NHS premises and also invites views on the idea of an outright ban of certain products, an approach already being taken by hospitals in several other countries.

The consultation follows the results of a recent NHS survey in which obesity was the most significant self-reported health problem amongst NHS staff with nearly 700,000 of its more than 1.3 million staff believed to be overweight or obese. The NHS previously committed to improve the health of its workforce in its Five Year Forward View.

Addressing the ukactive National Summit, Stevens said: “Confronted by rising obesity, type 2 diabetes and child dental decay, it’s time for the NHS to practice what we preach. Nurses, visitors and patients all tell us they increasingly want healthy, tasty and affordable food and drink options. So like a number of other countries we're now calling time on hospitals as marketing outlets for junk food and fizzy drinks.

“By ploughing the proceeds of any vendor fees back into staff health and patient charities these proposals are a genuine win/win opportunity to both improve health and cut future illness cost burdens for the NHS”

The fee, due to start in 2017, would complement the government’s proposed sugar tax, covering any drink with added sugar including fruit juices, sweetened milk-based drinks and sweetened coffees.  

Proceeds from the fee would fund the expansion of Health and Wellbeing Programmes for local staff and the patient charities of the individual trust concerned.

The consultation will also seek the views of patients, NHS staff, the public and suppliers about the ban and will close on 18 January when a decision will be taken about how the ban should be incorporated into the NHS standard contract.

A recent pilot of different types of sugar policies at four NHS hospitals has already shown positive results, with one trust reporting that although they sold no sugary drinks during the trial, they were financially unaffected with the overall number of drinks sold not decreasing.

NHS premises receive heavy footfall from local communities, with over one million patients every 24 hours, 22 million A&E attendances and 85 million outpatient appointments each year. The food and drink sold in these premises can therefore have a powerful influence on staff and the public regarding healthy food and drink consumption.

Obesity is a growing problem in England, with the prevalence of obesity among adults in England rising to 25.6% between 1993 and 2014. Overweight and obesity-related ill health problems make a direct cost to the NHS of £6.1bn every year. Consumption of SSBs has been found to be more strongly correlated with weight gain than any other food or beverage.

NHS England has recently introduced a number of other initiatives to improve staff and patient health and well-being such as the Staff Health and Wellbeing CQUIN, the Healthy Workforce Programme and support for General Practice, also due to launch in 2017.

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