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NHS chief in plea to leisure industry to help tackle staff obesity

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Leisure centres and gyms have been urged to begin discussions with their local health organisations in a bid to help tackle obesity among NHS staff.

Speaking at the ukactive national summit, NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens told delegates that the NHS has a “deep vested interest” in the leisure and activity sector being a success, not only for the wider public but also for NHS staff.

Stevens admitted that the NHS had to put its own house in order and that it had “not been a model employer in looking after the health and wellbeing” of its staff.

The NHS is Europe’s largest employer, with more than 1.3 million members of staff. A survey has found obesity to be the most significant self-reported health problem among its staff, with nearly 700,000 members of the workforce estimated to be overweight or obese.

Over the past year NHS England has introduced a number of initiatives to improve staff and patient health. More than 75,000 members of staff have taken part in schemes to improve health and wellbeing. Schemes that have been trialled include the appointment of health trainers and dieticians to give staff tailored advice on diet and exercise, as well as discounts at local gyms.

But Stevens said that the agenda in getting people healthier and fitter required private and public organisations to work together, including schools, local councils, the leisure industry, the health sector and national government.

Stevens told the audience: “We are trying to get a bit of bandwagon going here and my plea to those of you working in the leisure sector, in gyms or in local councils is to proactively go and seek out your local hospital, community trust, ambulance service and begin this dialogue with them about how you too can advance this agenda.”

As part of the agenda, NHS England could ban sugary drinks from being sold in the country’s hospitals. The organisation has launched a public consultation seeking views about a new fee to be paid for by vendors or an outright ban on the drinks on NHS premises.

NHS England said rising rates of obesity among its staff was not only bad for their personal health, but also affected sickness absence and the NHS’s ability to give patients credible and effective advice about their health.

NHS premises receive high footfall, with more than 1 million patients every 24 hours, 22 million A&E attendances and 85 million outpatient appointments each year. Food sold in locations can send a message to the public about healthy food and drink consumption, according to NHS England.

Stevens said: “Confronted by rising obesity, type 2 diabetes and child dental decay, it’s time for the NHS to practice what we preach. Nurses, visitors and patients all tell us they increasingly want healthy, tasty and affordable food and drink options.”

The consultation closes on January 18. To access the consultation go to

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Leisure centres and gyms have been urged to begin discussions with their local health organisations in a bid to help tackle obesity among NHS staff.
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