Sugary drinks are to be banned in hospital shops from next year unless suppliers voluntarily take decisive action to cut their sales over the next 12 months, NHS England has announced.

The organisation says leading retailers have already agreed to continue voluntarily cut sales of sugary drinks to 10 percent or less of their total drinks sales within hospitals over the coming year, and those that haven’t are now being urged to join them to help kick-start a major health drive.

NHS England also notes that, from this month, new national incentives for hospitals and other NHS providers to improve food on their premises are also being introduced so that, by April next year, 60 percent of confectionery and sweets stocked do not exceed 250 kcal, rising to 80 percent of confectionery and sweets in 2018/19.

Also, 60 percent of pre-packed sandwiches and other savoury pre-packed meals must to contain 400 kcal or less per serving and not exceed five grams of saturated fat per 100g, moving to 75 percent in 2018/19.

“It’s great that following discussion with NHS England, big name retailers are agreeing to take decisive action, which helps send a powerful message to the public and NHS staff about the link between sugar and obesity, diabetes and tooth decay,” noted NHS England Chief Executive, Simon Stevens.

Currently more money is spent each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than on the police, fire service and judicial system combined, highlighting the urgent need to tackle the problem.

As Europe’s largest employer, with over 1.3 million staff, nearly 700,000 of whom are estimated to be overweight or obese, the NHS is in a good position to take action over the damage being caused by poor diets, NHS England said.

Earlier this year, Public Health England (PHE) published new guidelines designed to cut the amount of sugar in nine products categories, including yoghurt, breakfast cereals and biscuits, under a bid to reduce consumption by 5 percent this year and overall by a fifth by 2020.

The planned reduction programme - through changes to recipes and portion sizes - could see 200,000 tonnes of sugar removed from the UK market per year by 2020, according to PHE.

The move came after data released towards the end of last year by NHS Digital showed that the number of children in the UK classed as overweight or obese had reached a record high.