Hospitals still flouting healthy eating rules on snack machines
Many hospitals are continuing to flout healthy eating rules by having vending machines brimming with junk food that are high in calories, sugar and salt.
It comes as the Government is set to outline in Budget 2018 plans to introduce a sugar tax on fizzy drinks from next year in a bid to tackle the country's obesity crisis.
The HSE brought in guidelines in 2014 aimed at outlawing traditional vending machines, which tempt patients and visitors with chocolate, crisps and soft drinks.
Hospitals were told to install new vending machines which would stock, as a minimum, 60pc of healthy options, and 40pc of other products.
However, it has now emerged that several hospitals - including St Columcille's in Loughlinstown which has a national obesity clinic - have yet to make the changeover.
Others with the old-style vending machines include Connolly Hospital, Louth County Hospital in Dundalk, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, the National Maternity Hospital, the Mater Hospital and the Coombe maternity hospital.
Other hospitals not fully compliant include Portiuncula Hospital in Galway and Roscommon Hospital, which has a "better choice" section but it makes up just 27pc of the snacks.
Sarah O'Brien of the HSE's healthy eating and living programme said some of these hospitals are locked into contracts with suppliers and have been unable to make the switch.
"Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, does not have any healthier vending machines. They have traditionally always filled their own vending machines and are not on contract to any company," she told Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher in a parliamentary reply.
"The Healthy Ireland project manager is in the process of working with the hospital to make the contents compliant with the nutritional standards as set out in the policy. Louth County Hospital is not on contract as it owns its own machines and self-fills."
She said St Columcille's Hospital has a pre-existing contract with a company which stocks the vending machine. Negotiations are under way to move to a healthier version.
Dr Donal O'Shea, the clinical lead for obesity in the HSE to drive the national obesity strategy, told the Irish Independent he has held a meeting about the junk-filled vending machines.
"They are sending out the wrong message," he said.
Dr O' Shea, who runs St Columcille's' obesity clinic, said he told officials a more aggressive approach has to be taken. "Hospitals must lead by example in the same way as when they stopped selling cigarettes."