NHS action cuts 10 million spoons of sugar from hospital drink sales

Action by NHS England has slashed the sale of sugary drinks in hospitals, new data has revealed.

Last year chief executive Simon Stevens challenged trusts to reduce the sale of sugar-filled drinks to 10 per cent or less of those bought on the premises.

Nine out of ten trusts have now acted, and the proportion of drinks sold on NHS premises that contain added sugar has been dramatically cut from 15.6 per cent to 8.7 per cent, successfully meeting the challenge.

Ten million teaspoons of sugar have been removed from NHS canteens, shops and vending machines as a result – the equivalent of 1.1 million cans of fizzy drink, roughly 39,000 kilos of sugar and over 160,000,000 fewer calories, official analysis of the new figures show.

Simon Stevens, chief executive at NHS England said: “The NHS is now putting its own house in order in the fight against flab – with the vast majority of hospitals answering the call to action. Obesity is one of the biggest long term challenges facing us as the NHS enters its eighth decade, so action now will avoid storing up a long list of preventable and expensive health problems for the years ahead.”

In total, 14 leading national retailers have signed up to the NHS health drive to tackle the impact of the country’s sweet tooth, with Boots also announced as the latest to comply today.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, NHS England’s national clinical director for diabetes and obesity said: “The obesity epidemic sweeping the country is a public health crisis. It is associated with heart attacks, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and a number of other illnesses – causing personal suffering and costing the health service and in turn the taxpayer, billions every year. And for all of those conditions, wherever possible, prevention is preferable to cure and that’s why it’s important the NHS sends out the right message by cutting sales of sugary drinks and offering healthier food and drinks to patients, relatives and our 1.3 million staff.”

The current sugar reduction scheme will remain in place for the rest of the year as part of the 2018/19 NHS healthy food and drink incentive programme, with all trusts expected to sign up this autumn. Those trusts not signed up will not be able to get a slice of this year’s national incentive scheme. NHS England is proposing to make it mandatory as part of the standard contract from 1 April 2019, subject to consultation.

This will ensure that the target is met in all retailers, on each NHS site, with options to go further on food and drink standards also under consideration.

The figures also show the beneficial impact that the government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy is having, with many drinks being reformulated or removed to escape the additional charge on sugar in place since April 2018, although the NHS has gone further than the drinks levy, with milk-based drinks already included in the sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) programme.