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Cash from NHS sugar tax will improve staff health – Stevens

Acute, mental health and community service hospitals may be liable to a sugar tax by 2020 to discourage patients, staff and visitors from buying these drinks and snacks, Simon Stevens has said.

In an interview with the Guardian, the NHS England boss said he was considering the tax – currently being debated on a national level – in the health service to tackle the “national sugar high” ruining people’s health.

Bringing the divisive levy to the NHS would make it the first public body in the UK to impose a sugar tax. Hospitals would start charging more for drinks and foods high in sugar sold across cafes and vending machines, with all proceeds – a £20-40m yearly estimate – to improve the health of their own staff.

Stevens, who has previously pushed for measures to improve the health of staff, said: “Because of the role that the NHS occupies in national life, all of us working in the NHS have a responsibility not just to support those who look after patients but also to draw attention to and make the case for some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country.

“We will be consulting on introducing an NHS sugar tax on various beverages and other sugar-added foods across the NHS which would be enforced over time as contracts for food catering and the shops that are in the foyers of hospitals come up for renewal over the next three to five years over a rolling basis. By 2020, we’ve either got these practices out of hospitals or we’ve got the equipment of a sugar tax on the back of them.”

With most of the country currently overweight or obese, Stevens claimed the tax is vital for the sustainability of the NHS itself, as well as the people it serves.

He has already argued that obesity could bankrupt the health service if serious strides are not made to tackle it, and the costs of diabetes – closely associated with being overweight – have already soared to £10bn a year. As it stands, bad diet has even edged ahead of smoking in terms of its relationship with avoidable illnesses.

While some welcomed Stevens’ proposals, the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs said the “ineffective and unfair” scheme would actually hit the poorest hardest. It is also campaigning against Downing Street’s intention to roll out a nationwide policy for sugar taxation, arguing that people will just turn to cheaper and potentially inferior options rather than consuming fewer calories.

But the Health Select Committee continues to stand behind the scheme, and the prime minister himself has indicated that he might make a U-turn on his opinion that the levy is unnecessary if it is needed to “make progress”.

(Top image c. Joe Giddens, PA Wire)


GO   18/01/2016 at 13:40

The prices of food and drink in most hospitals is already incredibly high and far exceeds that of a local supermarket. If the NHS are so concerned by people over using sugars then they should stop selling these all together and offer healthy, cheap alternatives. If my work place (local hospital) starts charging a tax I personally will just cross the road and purchase them from my local off licence instead.

Rob   18/01/2016 at 13:42

there is some evidence that artificial sweeteners actuallycause higher blood sugar levels than the sugar itself so hopefully we will tax these as well.....

Linda   18/01/2016 at 15:35

Will I get charged higher rate when I attend with family members eg I am going to take my daughter who has a broken arm to fracture clinic on Weds or would I be exempt at that point even if recognised? At 60 years old I do think I am capable of choosing my own diet. Being very fit I change my diet including increasing calories before I undertake certain sporting challenges should I be exempt at that point too? If I was young enough to be pregnant and very hungry would I be charged extra then - I ate like a horse in first few weeks of pregnancy, but got to 16 weeks pregnant weighing less than 7 stones. This can be scuppered by raising every possible objection /scenario - and I agree with the idea that people need to take responsibility for their own health including not getting obese but do not treat me as a 3 year old needing to be told eat your dinner or no pudding.

J   18/01/2016 at 18:37

Simon Stevens ought to be ashamed of acknowledging that his hospitals habitually stock such unhealthy food and drink in their vending machines that they warrant a tax for being unhealthy. People in glass houses really should not throw stones.

Sue   20/01/2016 at 00:09

Unbelievable hypocrisy !! If the snacks and drinks in their vending machines are so unhealthy why are they selling them! Use some common sense and replace them with healthy options. Better still pay some catering staff and keep a cafe open that sells good quality healthy food!!

Sal   21/01/2016 at 09:15

Agree with the above why not stop selling it all together and expecting every provider to be a role model by actively promoting healthy options in hospital foyers/shops, linking up with local businesses and adult education - this might create some apprentice opportunities aswell.

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