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The hospital hypocrisy

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Third year student, Ben, asks why it’s so common to see coca-cola machines outside diabetic wards and smokers outside the hospital doors.

Ben Mullin_SNT

Ben Mullin

I remember my undergraduate interview – I sold myself on my genuine interest in health and wellbeing.

Naively, I imagined this would be a shared passion within the nursing profession. As the frontier of health promotion you would think the ‘practice what you preach’ ethos would apply.

Sadly it’s not uncommon to encounter health care workers who are obese, despite the near universal acceptance that this is damging to individuals’ health.  This can create difficulty when trying to help patients make lifestyle changes, the professional is unable to act as a role model and may be seen by the patient as a hypocrite.


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The nutrients on offer in the hospital cafeteria mirror that of a fast food restaurant. The vending machines imitate junk food aisles in supermarkets. 

This is ludicrous, we all know nutrition’s indisputable role as one of our most important determinants of health.

I’m not at all suggesting nurses should take up the role of ‘The Food Police’ as adults are responsible for their own intake, we can only advise. What I am saying however is that healthcare providers should not be the ones providing the unhealthy options.

If patients want to bring in their own coca-cola, this is their own decision, but hospitals should be a place of health leadership that set examples of how to eat at home.

A headline in The Glasgow Herald (1978), announced “Hospitals criticised for selling cigarettes”. An absurd thought in the modern day, but will we look back in 40 years time and question why we healthcare providers ever sold junk food? Back then, in some cases, a sales trolley used to come to ward level to sell cigarettes.

“Healthcare providers should not be the ones providing the unhealthy options”

Sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? Where I’m working, WHSmith bring newspapers up to ward level – which is great. Sadly they also bring an array of junk food; including sweets and sugary drinks. Cigarettes were stopped from being sold in this way when we realised how bad they were for our health.

We already know how bad junk food is for our health – so when will it be stopped?

I recently nursed a patient whose blood sugars had been running high for the majority of the admission. The WHSmith trolley was making its way around again with all of the sweets on show. Despite the education he’d received from ward staff he gave in to temptation like any normal human being might when feeling they need a pick-me-up.

I don’t believe he would have bought those sweets if they hadn’t been in show – it was just so convenient.

I do appreciate the counter-argument: patients have a right to their own choice. They should be able to make educated choices, however, and teaching them about healthier lifestyles will give them the freedom to make informed choices wherever possible.

Change is needed. It does not make sense to sell patients products that make them ill.


Ben Mullin is a third year student nurse at Sheffield Hallam University


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