A ‘sugar tax’ could be introduced by the NHS in England within five years with hospitals and health centres charging more for sweet snacks and drinks sold in cafes and vending machines, according to a report.
The move is designed to persuade staff, patients and visitors to consume less sugar and help reduce levels of obesity and set an example to the general public, the Guardian reported.
The 20 per cent tax could raise up to £40m a year, which will be used to improve the health of the 1.3 million people who work for the NHS. At first only sugary drinks will be taxed.
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, told the paper: “Because of the role that the NHS occupies in national life, all of us working in the NHS have a responsibility not just to support those who look after patients but also to draw attention to and make the case for some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country.
“We will be consulting on introducing an NHS sugar tax on various beverages and other sugar-added foods across the NHS, which would be enforced over time as contracts for food catering and the shops that are in the foyers of hospitals come up for renewal over the next three to five years over a rolling basis.
“By 2020 we’ve either got these practices out of hospitals or we’ve got the equipment of a sugar tax on the back of them.”
Such are the levels of obesity in the UK – two-thirds of the adult population are at least over-weight -- that the NHS is struggling to cope with the associated health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.
“It’s not just the wellbeing of people in this country and our children. But it’s also the sustainability of the NHS itself,” Mr Stevens said.
It is hoped the move could help wean British people off their taste for sugar and turn palates back to a time when food was generally not so sweet – even some loaves of bread contain sugar.
The Health Select Committee of MPs has backed the introduction of a country-wide 20 per cent sugar tax. London’s mayor Boris Johnson, a Conservative MP and tipped as a future Prime Minister, has also increased the prices of all sugar-added soft drinks sold at City Hall by 10 pence.
However, in October last year, David Cameron ruled out introducing a national sugar tax with Downing Street saying he believed there were “more effective ways of tackling” obesity.