Ban or tax? NHS consults on sugary drinks sales

The NHS is consulting on whether it should add a tax to sugary soft drinks sold in hospitals or ban them altogether.

The levy would be paid by any vendor of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) sold on NHS premises in England. Whilst it would be “complementary” to the government’s proposed charge on sugary drinks, the NHS scheme would start sooner (2017) and encompass many more products, including sweetened coffees and sweetened milk-based drinks.

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 tax and an outright ban have been trialled at a handful of hospitals. The results were “positive”, the NHS claimed: total sales of drinks remained steady in one of the pilots despite the removal of sugary drinks from cafés and restaurants. New Zealand introduced a similar ban last year.

The British Soft Drinks Associations isn’t happy about either approach. However, it will have a battle on its hands stopping NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.

“… like a number of other countries we’re now calling time on hospitals as marketing outlets for junk food and fizzy drinks,” Stevens said.

The new policies are part of Stevens’ £5m plan to improve the health of staff, which could eventually see junk food banned from hospitals. This would be far more difficult to achieve given the lucrative contracts many NHS Trusts have signed with high street chains like Burger King and Costa Coffee.

A recent survey found obesity to be the most significant self-reported health problem amongst NHS staff – nearly 700,000 NHS staff were estimated to be overweight or obese.

“Confronted by rising obesity, type 2 diabetes and child dental decay, it’s time for the NHS to practice what we preach,” Stevens added. The consultation closes on January 18th 2017.

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