The Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) is supporting plans to implement a sugar tax across hospitals to tackle the ‘national sugar high’ and obesity.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens is proposing the 20% tax on all sugary drinks and foods in NHS cafés to be introduced by 2020. He said the NHS’s 1.3million staff had a “responsibility” to lead by example, and urged MPs to take similar action.

Mr Stevens continued: “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 wellbeing of people in this country and our children. But it’s also the sustainability of the NHS itself.”

HCA chairman Phil Shelley agrees: “The HCA believes the proposed sugar tax is a strong step forward and should be part of a holistic approach to a healthier lifestyle for NHS staff and visitors. We support Steven’s plans, whilst recognising that our staff need varied nutritional support due to long shift patterns and nocturnal hours.”

He continued: “We note that a 20% tax seems ambitious at this point, however with the suggested phased implementation it could be achievable. We have some reservations about how expensive the visitor experience already is to hospitals and would be wary of increasing that. “Visitors already get charged for hospital parking for example and we do need visitors to be able to come on site, especially those visiting the long-term sick, at an affordable price. Looking at this holistically, whilst raising the price of sugary food and drink we could marginalise the impact by ensuring a reasonable price is set for nutritious alternatives.”

The HCA estimates that on average a standard sugary bottled drink in hospital vending machines costs around £1.55, with an added 20% tax this would bring the price up to £1.86, similar to that found in expensive service stations and city transport hubs.

Phil Shelley added: “The tax however does not address the question of whether we should be offering these kind of products at all. The issue is complex and a one size does not fit all. We need to be sensitive to high stress environments such as A&E which perhaps could be exempt but there is a potential in the future for 90% of hospital areas to be completely free of vending machines selling sugary drinks and snacks which would navigate the need for the tax.”

When rolled out, the sugar tax is expected to raise between £20-£40million a year, which will then go towards improving the health of its NHS staff.