As a possible precursor to a wider introduction of a sugar tax, it has been announced that the NHS will introduce such a measure in its own hospitals and health centres.
Chief Executive Simon Stevens has stated that a 20% tax will be imposed on all sugary drinks and food in NHS cafes.
However, the timescale of changing attitudes on a wider level is underlined by the time that it will take to instigate this measure.
Stevens told The Guardian newspaper that this new taxation measure will only be introduced in 2020.
One is left to wonder when the problems with obesity will be addressed by some form of action in the wider society.
Nonetheless, despite the concerns that this is little more than a piecemeal measure, and one that is being implemented extremely slowly, Stevens was positive about the possibilities of this action.
He stated that the NHS’s 1.3 million staff had a “responsibility” to lead by example, and urged MPs to take similar action.
It must be questioned what sort of impact this measure would have, if indeed members of parliament paid heed to his call for a broader taxation aimed at the general public.
However, it is expected the NHS levy, which would initially only apply to sugary drinks, could raise £20m-£40m a year; so at least this can be viewed as a financial sweetener!
Again, it must be said in mitigation that the approximately £30 million that this will raise a year is an extremely miniscule figure when compared to the budget of the NHS as a whole, and the predicted deficits of the health service.
Despite scepticism, it is hoped by Stevens that the tax will discourage staff, patients and visitors from purchasing sugary and unhealthy items, while the money raised can at least be put to good use within the NHS.
Commenting on the issue, Stevens emphasised the moral role and the position of responsibility that the NHS should occupy.
“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. It’s not just the well-being of people in this country and our children. But it’s also the sustainability of the NHS itself.”
Research has suggested that sugar in food and drink is possibly the biggest contributor to the obesity epidemic in the United Kingdom, and indeed further afield as well.
There is clearly no easy answer to this problem, and no-one should realistically expect a sugar tax to solve anything, but at least some financial benefit can be found for the health service.