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'NHS must ensure staff can make healthy choices'


NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens’ comments last week about nurses and doctors needing to lose weight to be better role models hit a nerve and a chord with NHS staff - probably in equal measure.

There are some who have said that instead of pointing the finger at clinicians’ waistlines, Mr Stevens should be focusing on the more important problems of preventing trusts having to spend £1,800 on an agency nurse or there simply not being enough nurses to provide care, let alone safe, high-quality care. But his observations are not without some justifi cation. The NHS is a large employer, and as the nation has got more overweight, it stands to reason that the proportion of overweight NHS staff will reflect that, and be increasing in number as well as size.

In a perfect world, they should be more healthy - so they are fit and well to do their jobs. And of course, they should be role models to their patients. However, this isn’t a perfect world is it? Nurses rarely get a break, they need to grab food at speed, and frequently don’t have time to shop, plan and eat well. Supermarkets and fast food places make eating fatty food far quicker and cheaper than opting for many healthy choices, and so it is harder for nurses to feed themselves and their families on a diminishing pay packet.

Exercise is also harder to fit in if you’ve had a long and already physically and mentally demanding day. The responsibility to eat well and keep fit is everyone’s, but the NHS could become a place that makes it easier for its employees to take care of themselves. Currently, it isn’t. Burger bars in hospital foyers and vending machines don’t help. On-site or subsidised gym access and healthy eating options in workplaces would help.

So the health service must be a lot more carrot and a lot less stick - literally. That said, it’s good to see Mr Stevens being proactive in tackling this issue - unlike his predecessor who famously recounted how for years he’d been in personal denial about how his fry ups and lack of exercise contributed to his own weight gain, until he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Of course, his NHS pension and lifestyle now allows him to eat healthily and take more exercise. But it’s time nurses had access to that same right - because being able to make those healthy choices is currently more of a privilege, and one that many nurses just don’t feel they have access to.

Jenni Middleton, Editor

Follow me on Twitter: @nursingtimesed


Readers' comments (9)

  • Nicely put

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  • You say: "Nurses rarely get a break, they need to grab food at speed, and frequently don’t have time ...... eating fatty food far quicker and cheaper than opting for many healthy choices." Not just nurses - that fits the majority of the working population. Subsidised gyms and healthy eating options? If it's good advice given out to the general population, it's sad that such incentives are needed for our role models (doctors as well of course).

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  • 'Grabbing' something healthy doesn't take any longer than 'grabbing' something unhealthy. Processed, unhealthy rubbish from supermarkets doesn't cost less than fresh food. We should stop blaming everything and everybody but ourselves. I eat the wrong foods sometimes, but that is my choice.

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  • Many of the population are as hard worked as us nurses and others do equally necessary jobs, where would we all be without the refuse collectors and the power station workers, we can't set ourselves apart as being more special than the next man, we need to pack up healthy food if it is into available in the hospital most other workers don't have canteens etc. we need to stop making excuses and get in with it.

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  • NHS reflects societies trends. Unhealthy eating is a problem for the whole of society. If you want nurses, doctors etc to lose weight then the whole of society must do it. Once people as a whole are agreed, then a trend starts. Stop picking on NHS staff, it won't work. Smoking was very prevalent once, it was reduced by mass education over a long period of time. It is still here, but much reduced. Picking on sections of society won't change anything.

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  • once again it is only nurses that are fat, never occurs in any other health care professional, paragons of virtue nurses are not, they are , well only human doing a difficult job, if we had a break from the battering of a stick, a meal break , better pay we could afford healthy food . I had yet another stressful week, big crime committed, glass of wine and an indian take away , so shoot me for my sin.

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  • At my trust, we are often expected to remain on site during unpaid breaks in case we are needed so getting out of the hospital for a walk or fresh air is often impossible

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  • You know what I would like to see? A graph. On one value you could put 'agree/disagree'. On the other value you could put 'overweight/not overweight'. It would be interesting to see where these lines ran parallel and where they diverged.
    You could compare it with another one which compared 'my food and exercise choices are my responsibility' with 'my food and exercise choices are somebody else's responsibility'.

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  • You know what I would like to see... intelligent conversation and kindness. Hard to tabulate but much more effective.

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