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Costa Coffees and Hospitals: More Than Just a Cup of Tea

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It is a widely met consensus that a cup of tea or coffee is the remedy to any stressful situation- whether it’s an impending essay deadline, an almighty hangover or an argument over whose turn it is to clean the kitchen- putting the kettle on and making a brew often seems to be a reflex reaction.

I personally can’t think of a more stressful situation than in a hospital, a place running high on emotions, anxieties and tensions. What then seems to be absurd is the ongoing debate about the removal of Costa Coffees from hospital foyers, an argument which has been rumbling on for over two years.

It all kicked off with comments made by Dr Sally Norton in 2014, when, in a Daily Mail article, she said, “As a weight loss surgeon, I find it frustrating and, frankly, embarrassing to spend time in clinic, explaining to my patients how sugary drinks and snacks are one of the biggest drivers of obesity, when I know that just outside there are not one, but two Costa Coffee shops”, as she called for the removal of unhealthy food products from within hospital walls. Norton also pointed to the huge and increasingly pressing issue of obesity and Type Two diabetes in the UK, which are costing the NHS millions each year. Indeed, it cannot be denied that these are issues which need to be tackled: we all know that. For that reason, I whole-heartedly agree that having fast-food retailers such as Burger King within hospitals is not sending the right message. However, my issue here isn’t with the removal of Burger Kings, but with the removal of Costa Coffee, for at the end of the day, we are essentially talking about the difference between a Double Bacon XL Cheeseburger and a cup of tea! Costa’s main seller is their Skinny Cappuccino, which contains 72 calories, whilst a cup of tea contains just 17. Admittedly, Costa do sell a range of sugary drinks and calorific cakes, but if the issue is with encouraging healthy eating in hospitals, surely a simpler solution would just be to sell fewer sugary snacks and more healthy options in hospital chains of Costa rather than removing them altogether?

But actually, it is more than physical well-being in question here, with emotional well-being also needing to be considered. What seems to have been forgotten is that the majority of people within the walls of a hospital are actually not patients at all; instead, they are family and friends of patients, and of course, doctors, nurses and all other members of hospital staff. Rather than being a place to buy a calorific snack, Costa Coffees in hospitals serve the function of being a familiar, comfortable environment for people at times of stress and anxiety, a place where worried visitors can relax. Take, for example, my eighty-year-old Grandmother. Last week, my Grandfather had to go in to hospital for a small operation, and whilst my Grandmother waited, she went to Costa to buy a cup of tea and a teacake. For her, the reason for her visit to Costa was certainly not to top up on calories: instead, the Costa served the function of offering a comfortable place to sit and wait with a brew whilst she read her book, surely a much nicer alternative to sitting in a daunting hospital waiting room.

Similarly, as they reach the end of a long and stressful shift, are we really in a position to be denying doctors and nurses the chance to get a quick cup of tea and maybe a toasted sandwich? Dr Sally Norton herself admitted that she likes to “grab a quick cup of a coffee”, and understandably so! However, she then said that she is often ‘tempted by an obedient employee to buy one of their huge, sugar-laden and calorific cakes to go with it’, which she said would be setting a bad example to her patients. Of course doctors should be setting a good example to their patients to a certain extent, but surely part of this setting of an example is knowing how to exert will-power and to make the right decisions?

Removing Costa Coffees altogether just seems like a downright patronising solution – at the end of the day, it should be the consumer’s choice, and if they want a cup of tea, why shouldn’t they be able to get one, regardless of whether they’re a doctor, a family member or even a patient? Surely, advocating healthy eating means educating people about making the right choices rather than simply removing a situation, especially when within minutes of walking out of the hospital’s doors you are bound to find a McDonald’s, a Burger King, or millions of other Costas and Starbucks. If patients were to just go elsewhere for their coffee rather than visiting a Costa within a hospital, the hospital itself would lose out economically in the long term anyway, given that the majority of money from the sales of a Costa within hospitals goes straight back to the hospital trust.

The debate about Costa Coffees in hospitals continues to rattle on, but to me it all just seems a bit ridiculous. This is a question not of physical health, but emotional well-being – the Costa within a hospital offers a recognisable environment, a place where anxious people can find a moment of relaxation with a cup of coffee and a book. Removing Costa Coffees altogether just seems an unnecessary answer to an ongoing problem, when really these coffee shops probably aren’t a main cause of obesity at all to start with. We all need a cup of tea (and maybe even a slice of cake…) at times, and it is likely that we need this comfort and reassurance more than ever in the environment of a hospital.

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Ellie Fells

Ellie Fells

Second year English Lit student and currently an Equestrian Blogger.