The National Health Service is planning its own sugar tax throughout its hospitals and health centres to help combat obesity, chief executive Simon Stevens has told The Guardian.

Health officials are proposing a levy on all sugary drinks and foods in NHS cafes by 2020 in a move that could bring £20-£40 million to the books, which will be re-streamed into boosting the health of staff, Stevens said.

The NHS could become the first public body in the UK to bring in such a tax, which, it is hoped, will also discourage patients and visitors from purchasing sugar-rich foods and drinks, and thus support healthier lifestyle choices.

“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,” Stevens told the paper.

“It’s not just the wellbeing of people in this country and our children. But it’s also the sustainability of the NHS itself,” he stressed.

MPs are currently considering a national sugar tax as part of a package of measures designed to reign in the rising tide of childhood obesity.

Research recently published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology concluded that reducing the amount of sugar in drinks by 40% over five years could lead to one million fewer cases of obesity and 300,000 fewer cases of type II diabetes over 20 years. 

But the Taxpayers Alliance is against the move. “There are other ways to help reduce obesity: public health information campaigns and promoting awareness of particular health problems are obvious alternatives; and encouraging more activity and exercise is crucial too”.

“A sugar tax would be deeply regressive and hit those on lower incomes the hardest,” said chief executive Jonathan Isaby, arguing that “changes to Britain's diets will happen via a long-term cultural shift, not by hiking the cost of living for the poorest families”.