Hospital caterers are urging NHS trusts to ban fast food outlets on their premises.

The demand by the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) follows calls by MPs for the NHS to play its part in the fight against obesity by outlawing the sale of junk food in hospitals.

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, backed the MPs’ call and criticised hospitals for permitting the sale of fast food. “The NHS is being pennywise but pound-foolish selling junk food that ultimately just lands more people in hospital with expensive, preventable, obesity-driven illnesses. So as these fast-food concessions come up for renewal, hospitals should demand healthier, tastier, affordable alternatives,” he said.

HCA national chair Andy Jones agreed with Mr Stevens but said NHS trust rather than caterers themselves bore the responsibility for policing the ban. He said: “To the HCA the standard of catering in our hospitals is of the highest priority. This ‘crackdown’ on unhealthy food fits into a modern healthcare environment, but we don’t see it as ‘our place’ to say that ‘fast-food’ concessions should be banned in hospitals. Rather, what we are saying is that when trusts do let outlets, they ensure they write into the contract lease agreements that healthy food and drink options must be provided and have to be at the core. Additionally, the popular ‘meal deals’ should be made up of healthy options too.”

He added that, as the purveyor of health and wellbeing, the NHS does not do well at promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle. “The HCA has no issue with snacks being offered in restaurants, cafes, vending machines and shops on site, and it does not want to see fizzy drinks stopped (as people will purchase them elsewhere and the trust will lose income, which often goes back into patient food),” he said. “However in terms of their positioning, we need to make healthier options easier to see and buy. Sell chocolate bars by all means, but outlaw the duo type bars, and carry biscuits, but in packaging carrying no more than three of the said biscuits, and most certainly, carry no packets or tins and ‘grab-bags’ of sweets/crisps at more than 200grams.”

In 2009, the Department of Health estimated that of the 1.2 million staff in the NHS, approximately 300,000, would be classified as obese and a further 400,000 as overweight.

As part of a wide-ranging drive to raise standards of hospital food across the UK, the NHS now has mandatory food standards and hospitals will be ranked on food quality for NHS patients.