Tameside Hospital has become the first in the UK to ban all sugary snacks from its restaurant. But the news hasn’t gone down well among some, who claim the hospital is taking away staff’s ‘freedom of choice’.
The hospital, based in Greater Manchester, has removed sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks and other goods deemed to be unhealthy from shelves to reduce temptation among staff.
It hopes the move will curb staff obesity and inspire patients to make healthier choices too. But some see it as a slight on NHS staff who work for hours on end to keep people alive and well.
Commenting on an ITV News Facebook post, James Malloy wrote: “I’m in favour of encouraging healthy eating, but what gives the hospital the right to take away freedom of choice? It should be up to the staff members what they decide to eat.”
On Twitter, people seemed equally unimpressed.
However others applauded the move, saying it was long overdue and a “step in the right direction”.
In response to criticism, Amanda Bromley, hospital director, told HuffPost UK: “Staff do have freedom of choice. There are shops nearby that sell sugary snacks which they can buy from, if they wish.
“As an NHS hospital, we should be leading by example by curbing the amount of sugary snacks we offer. And we’re the first of many, I think, this scheme will likely be rolled out across the rest of the country over time.
“People do have a choice. It’s just a healthier choice.”
As part of the move, Tameside Hospital’s restaurant has swapped all confectionery for healthier options and the only drinks available for staff and visitors are tea, coffee, milk and water.
Vending machines will also soon switch to selling only healthier goods.
It comes after 100 staff at the hospital started a 12-week Slimpod weight loss programme in the summer where sugary desserts were taken off the menu for a trial period.
Most (90%) of the consultants, midwives, community nurses and medical support secretaries who took part in the programme reported their biggest problem at work was snacking.
By following the programme, they said they naturally reduced their portion sizes, chose to eat healthier foods and lost weight.
One person ended up losing 13kg (28lbs) over the 12 weeks, and a staff member who had been chronically diabetic is now about to come off medication.
The Slimpod weight loss programme was commissioned by the trust’s chief executive Karen James because of her concerns about the health and wellbeing of her 4,000-strong team.
She said: “My staff work very hard. Long hours and shift patterns often make it very difficult for people to make healthy choices, so they opt for the instant sweet fixes, which until now have been readily available.
“These are dedicated healthcare professionals who believe they should be role models for their patients but the food environment has been working against them.”
A recent report revealed one in four NHS nurses is obese. Amanda Bromley, the hospital director responsible for staff wellbeing at Tameside, said obesity ”could be contributing to high staff sickness levels and heaping more pressure on the health service”.
“Obesity related illness is taking an increasing toll on the NHS, as almost half of nurses are over the age of 45,” she said. “The figures are deeply worrying and long, stressful shifts often made it hard for staff to make healthy choices.
“I believe by listening to colleagues and being guided by the results of the staff weight loss experiment we are showing that things can change.”
Not everyone thinks the scheme is a bad idea. Macmillan cancer nurse Stephanie Ridgway, 50, who works at the hospital, said: “My problem was I could be giving advice to my patients about healthy eating with my pockets stuffed with chocolate bars.
“Now I feel that I’m practising what I preach. I’ve lost 21lbs and I’m a size 10.”