NHS plans could see trusts and health centres in England introduce a sugar tax to help bring down rates of obesity, the head of the health service has said.
Under the proposals, drinks and snacks sold in hospital canteens and vending machines that are high in sugar could cost more in a bid to encourage staff, patients and visitors to choose healthier options instead.
”All of us working in the NHS have a responsibility…to draw attention to wider changes that will improve the health of this country”
NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens said the proposed 20% tax – which is expected to raise around £20m to £40m a year – would be used to fund staff health and wellbeing programmes.
It is expected the plans will be introduced on a rolling basis, as contracts with caterers and shops are due for renewal over the next three to five years and would be in place by 2020.
According to a statement from NHS England, a consultation on the proposals is expected to look at several approaches, including charging the fee to vendors.
The plans will be developed to work alongside the government’s forthcoming national childhood obesity strategy, it added.
“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,” said Mr Stevens.
“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,” he added.
Mr Stevens’ comments came in an interview with The Guardian, in which he also called for ministers to take tougher action against the increasing problem of obesity.
He suggested food companies should be forced to reduce the sugar content in their products, similar to an approach that was taken with reducing added salt levels in food.
Last year, Public Health England published a report on ways to reduce the nation’s sugar intake and tackle obesity.
It noted almost 25% of adults, 10% of 4 to 5 year olds and 19% of 10 to 11 year olds in England were obese, with around £5.1bn spent on treating the condition in the NHS every year.
One of its recommendations was to introduce a sugar tax of 10-20%, for drinks in particular.