A RAFT of measures encouraging staff at Oxfordshire's hospitals to make healthier food choices is coming into effect.

In a bid to keep sickness absence low Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been working with retailers on all of its hospital sites.

Aramark, which runs the 'On Three' restaurants at all three Headington hospitals, has stopped selling large chocolate bars.

Meanwhile Marks & Spencer and Pret a Manger at the JR have boosted the range of salads, soups, fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts up on display.

It comes as Public Health England found the cost to the NHS of sickness absence was £2.4bn in 2014 and around 700,000 NHS staff were overweight or obese.

A briefing seen by the OUH board this month noted shop owners had taken part in an education session on items high in fat, sugar and salt.

Paul Brennan, the trust's director of clinical service, said: "The overall response is extremely positive. There is a strong willingness to engage and strive to make changes.

"These workshops encouraged retailers to outline the challenges they experienced and to share knowledge and ideas."

After the final quarter of 2016/17, the trust will receive an as-yet unspecified sum of cash from NHS England if it delivers on outcomes.

Throughout Oxfordshire's NHS hospitals price promotions on unhealthy foods and unhealthy 'impulse buys' near checkouts will be banned.

Retailers have also been told to make sure healthy options are available 24/7 for staff working night shifts.

Vending machines at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre have also been stocked with zero-sugar drinks and fresh fruit while Carrilion, which manages the vending contract at the John Radcliffe Hospital, has brought in healthier options from The Rude Food Vending Company, which supplies many leisure centres.

Mr Brennan said: "This has been a significant amount of work for all the retailers but they have willingly supported the trust."

Efforts have also been made to meet the requirements at the League of Friends cafes across OUH sites, where 1,000 staff, visitors and patients are served every day.

Manager David Simpson said: "We've done things like change our crisp offerings to baked crisps, and removing confectionery from the cash register area.

"We've introduced more fruit and potted salads, and a higher proportion of low-fat and low-salt foods.

"We haven't had feedback over the counter except for one or two patients saying 'Where's the Ribena and the Polo Fruits?'.

"With the trust itself there have been several seminars to discuss what has to be done and it hasn't affected our income."