The NHS is paving the way for a hospital sugar tax, understood to be about 20%, by beginning to remove adverts, price promotions and checkout displays for unhealthy food in hospitals and other health centres from next month.
Trusts bidding for money to help staff adopt healthier lifestyles must submit information on fast-food franchises, vending machines and other retail outlets on their sites, in a move that will help finalise the implementation of the tax from April 2017.
Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, who revealed his plan for a sugar tax to the Guardian in January, has announced £600m of strings-attached funding, about 1% of the money budgeted for commissioning services from hospitals and other trusts, to help pay for the initiative. The package includes schemes to increase the number of staff walking and cycling to work, and provide more opportunities for other physical activity, including team sports, fitness classes and running clubs. Fast-track access to physiotherapy services and mental health initiatives, including stress management, mindfulness courses, counselling and mental health first aid, are also on the agenda.
Trusts have been told that they must do more to ensure that staff have the winter flu vaccine in order to protect vulnerable patients and reduce staff sickness. Currently the take-up rate is poor, with 50% of NHS workers inoculated each year. The target is closer to 75%.
The initiative, which will not involve GP practices, comes amid increasing doubts that the government will introduce a sugar tax on retailers elsewhere and further delays to a planned strategy on reducing childhood obesity.
Stevens said it was time for the NHS in England, which employs 1.3 million people, “to practise what it preaches” and cut the £2.4bn-a-year cost of staff absences.
“A good place to start is by tackling the sources of staff sickness absence, including mental health and musculoskeletal injuries, while doing our bit to end the nation’s obesity epidemic by ditching junk food and sugary drinks in place of tasty, healthy and affordable alternatives,” he said. “If we can do this well, we hope that more parts of the public and private sector will see the sense of it and also take the plunge.”
Public Health England, which is part of the NHS, is preparing to announce a nationwide campaign on Monday encouraging the public to change their daily behaviour by measures including cutting out unhealthy foods and stopping smoking. Treating obesity and its consequences in the wider population costs the NHS an estimated £5.1bn a year.
Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “The NHS stands to pick up the tab for our obesity crisis, so it is welcome and apt that it should set a strong example when it comes to tackling obesity among its own staff. There is much in this initiative that the government can and should take heed of when it comes to delivering its own obesity strategy, especially the emphasis on delivering financial incentives and environmental changes, rather than expecting education alone to do the trick.”
Praising the “serious and progressive measures” outlined by Stevens, she said they threw “into even starker relief the government’s ongoing failure to do the same for our children by further delaying its childhood obesity strategy.
“After all, when it comes to tackling the obesity crisis, it is these early years interventions that will count most,” Cramer said.
David Haslam, who chairs the National Obesity Forum, which campaigns on the issue, praised Stevens but warned that “initiatives proposed by the government, the Department of Health and the NHS to help tackle obesity have been crashing down like waves on a beach for over 25 years.
“Unfortunately, like waves on a beach, they retreat having made not a scrap of difference, because however profoundly sensible the idea might be, funding will never match ambition and short-termism will win. This is a palpably sensible and important proposal which, if it [were] ever implemented, would make a profound difference to the health, happiness and longevity of a large number of people ... It’s time for the authorities to put their money where their mouth is and ensure that proposals like this actually have a chance to succeed.”
Original article by James Meikle, The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/05/nhs-england-prepares-sugar-tax-banning-adverts-unhealthy-food