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
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