NHS England has announced plans to ban the sale of sugary drinks on its providers’ premises if action is not taken to reduce consumption.

Currently, only 141 of 232 NHS Trusts are signed up to a voluntary scheme that aims to reduce the amount of sugary drinks sold to below 10% of beverage purchases. Retailers such as Marks and Spencer, WH Smiths and Subway have also agreed to cut sugary drink sales in their hospital outlets.

However, the updated NHS hospital contract includes, for the first time, a clause prohibiting the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages. This will come into force if providers fail to reach the previously voluntary 10% target and will result in a total ban on the drinks. Providers and outlets have until the end of March 2018 to comply with these new terms.

Announcing the policy, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “It’s important the NHS practices what it preaches on healthy food and drink. We want 2018 to be the year when the tasty, affordable and easy option for patients, staff and visitors is the healthy option.”

Broad support for tackling sugary drinks

The move has received support from pressure groups such as the Campaign for Better Hospital Food and also from Public Health England (PHE). PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie argued: “Hospitals should play an important role in preventing obesity, not just treating it. Plans to offer healthier food and restrict less healthy options are a positive step towards tackling the country’s obesity problem.”

England will be the second country in the world to implement such a plan, following Portugal’s bold action last year. And with a UK-wide sugar tax on drinks scheduled for April, 2018 is set to be a time of change for the UK beverage industry. The tax will affect products with over 5g of sugar per 100ml.

While the current drive for better health is seemingly being driven by the public sector, consumers are also becoming more health-conscious. Zero-sugar brands are becoming increasingly popular and major players in the UK beverage industry are responding with diversified portfolios and new product offerings. This means that while bans and taxes pose challenges for drinks manufacturers, they also represent significant opportunities.