Hospitals and local health centres across England will start charging more for sugary drinks and snacks by 2020 in an effort to discourage staff and patients from buying them.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told The Guardian that the service had a responsibility to ‘make the case for some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country’.
It is estimated that the tax will raise an extra £20-£40m a year which will be used to improve the health of 1.3m NHS workers.
“There is an important case for not doing this overnight with a big bang, but doing it on a phased basis," said Stevens.
"It’s partly around re-educating our palates and the palates of our children. The effectiveness of doing this is about doing it in a way that enables tastes to change back to what they were not so long ago, before we put ourselves on a national sugar high.”
“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.”
Hospitality calls for action
The announcement comes amid growing pressure on the government to include a nationwide sugar tax in its upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy.
Last week Andrew Fairlie – chef at the eponymous two Michelin-starred restaurant at Gleneagles – argued that it would be ‘criminal’ not to introduce a sugary drinks levy in Scotland.
Jamie Oliver introduced a 10p tax on all sugary drinks across his 46 UK restaurants last year, and has urged other hospitality businesses to follow suit.
So far Leon, Abokado, Tortilla, Union Jacks, Lexpress Coffee, Angela Reed Café & Bakery and Brighton’s SixtyFourDegrees restaurant have signed up to the scheme.
The NHS decision comes days after David Cameron refused to rule out introducing a tax on sugar, despite the Department of Health previously claiming it had ‘no plans’ to introduce the levy.
Cameron told journalists he was committed to a ‘fully worked-up programme’ to combat Britain’s ‘obesity crisis’.
In October a report by Public Health England recommended a tax of between ten and 20 per cent on high sugar products in order to achieve a ‘meaningful’ reduction in sugar consumption.