Campaigners and individuals, including Jamie Oliver, have worked hard to push the Sugary Drinks Tax into existence in the UK. The confidence today’s announcement from the NHS builds for our collective efforts is heartening.

The NHS is a global beacon for healthcare but even it has been over taken by the same junk food and problems in vending machines and cafeterias alike. This bold move shows the NHS thinks enough is enough in the fight against type 2 diabetes, obesity and diet related disease.

Today, Chief Executive Simon Stevens made two bold proposals to curb the obesity epidemic in the UK:

  1. Put a tax on sugary drinks sold in hospitals, or
  2. Completely ban the sale of sugary drinks in hospitals.

This would make England the first country to take action across its health services in this way.

How it would work:

These proposals would complement the government’s proposed sugary drinks tax. But, would begin sooner – in 2017 – and would cover the full range of sugar sweetened drinks, including: sugar added fruit juices, sweetened milk-based drinks and sweetened coffees.

Proceeds from the fee would be used directly to fund expanded local staff health and wellbeing programmes and/or the trust’s patient charities.

The NHS has already piloted a ban on sugary drinks in one hospital to great results. In the absence of sugary drinks during the pilot, people made better choices. And the hospital suffered no dip in sales – and needed revenue.

It’s a clear demonstration that when people have better options, we make better choices.

Why it matters:

Simon Stevens knows the scale of the challenge we face. He 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.”

There could be no more critical forum for this change. And no greater contradiction than promoting products that make us sick – in the very place meant to make us better.

The facts are plain:

Leadership is urgently required – NHS hospitals are high traffic, public spaces. They receive over 1 million patients every 24 hours, 22 million A&E attendances and 85 million outpatient appointments each year. The NHS has said: “the food sold in these locations can send a powerful message to the public about healthy food and drink consumption.” How right they are!

Employees are suffering – According to a recent NHS staff survey, obesity was the most significant self-reported health problem. Nearly 700,000 NHS staff are estimated to be overweight or obese. Which means more sickness related absenteeism and puts in question the NHS’s ability to give patients credible and effective advice about their health.

The costs are too high – £6.1bn a year is bled from the NHS to treat overweight and obesity-related health issues. At the same time, £8.8bn a year is spent treating Type 2 diabetes, one of the main consequences of obesity.

We all need to speak up – The formal consultation announced today means that the NHS wants to hear from you. All feedback from patients, carers, NHS staff, the public and suppliers received before January 18th will be considered. And will then be used to inform how the NHS selects and works with suppliers of food and beverages sold in their hospitals.

Government policy plays a clear role in enabling the NHS to make these large-scale, hugely impactful changes. This is a critical time to speak up and ensure the NHS has the support they need to make the changes we all know are right.

Tell the government more support is needed. #TellTheresa the U.K. urgently needs a strong obesity strategy.


Photo credit: image taken during filming of Jamie’s Sugar Rush

©2015 Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited; photography Freddie Claire