Health campaigners call for crackdown on smokers flouting hospital ban

People smoking outside the Royal Infirmary. Picture: Ian Georgeson
People smoking outside the Royal Infirmary. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Visitors have described the grounds of the Royal Infirmary as “looking like an ashtray” as smokers routinely ignore a ban on lighting up in hospital grounds.

NHS Lothian declared hospital grounds “smoke free” with a fanfare more than two years ago after the Scottish government introduced a blanket ban on lighting up outside 
hospitals.

Smokers gather outside the ERI

Smokers gather outside the ERI

But smokers hanging around outside the Little France buildings and at other sites including the Astley Ainslie remains an everyday sight.

Health campaigners today demanded the health board followed through on its promise to ban smoking on site, calling for fixed penalty fines and legally-designated anti-smoking zones.

NHS Lothian drafted in extra support staff in 2015 to assist in a crackdown on smokers, but campaigners say little has been done to stub it out.

Since “combustible” cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower was discovered at the Royal Infirmary last week fencing has been brought in to stop people smoking near the walls.

Smoker at the Western General Hospital

Smoker at the Western General Hospital

Margaret Watt, chair of the Scottish Patients Association, described the lack of action on smokers as “disgusting,” adding: “We should be proud of our hospitals, but how can we be when there are hundreds of cigarette butts littering the 
outside?”

“Hospitals have security staff who seem to do very little to actually enforce the ban that is currently in place. It obviously isn’t working if smokers feel comfortable enough to continue lighting up outside when it is clearly signposted that they are not allowed.

“There should be a fining system in place, similar to if you’re caught smoking in your car, but personally, I would also like to see patrols going around the outside of our hospitals and telling people to stub it out.”

She continued: “From a health perspective, patients who don’t smoke are inhaling second-hand smoke, so it’s affecting them. Also, there’s a risk of patients picking up infections outside and bringing them back onto the ward.”

Sheila Duffy, CEO of Action on Smoking & Health (Ash) Scotland, said a “real conversation” was required on ways to persuade smokers to “abstain” when on NHS premises. She also demanded much tougher regulations.

“It is heartbreaking to see people smoking outside hospitals when tobacco is the main cause for so many of the diseases being treated in the buildings,” she said.

“From next spring, we expect to see a 15-metre perimeter created by law around hospital buildings on NHS grounds with a fixed penalty of £50 or fine of up to £1,000 for breaching the law.

“This measure is intended to protect entrances, windows and ventilation from tobacco smoke, which we know is a toxic 
pollutant.”

Despite the Scottish government ruling that hospitals must be “smoke free” coming into force in April 2015 – almost a decade after the wider smoking ban across Scotland – it is not a statutory offence to smoke in hospital grounds, however some health boards, have introduced wardens to enforce the ban, though NHS Lothian haven’t taken that step.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “The NHS has to cater both for smokers, and those patients and visitors who don’t want to walk through a plume while going to hospital.

“However, It’s clear from these images that any ban in place isn’t working.

“And while there’s an aspiration for the NHS to be completely smoke-free, we need to remember that these are patients and visitors for whom a cigarette may be the only relief they are getting in the course of a day.”

Further tests are set to be carried out over the next six weeks to establish whether the cladding used on the exterior of the building remains compliant with current rules, though fire chiefs have said it is safe for current services.

George Curley, NHS Lothian’s Operations Director, said: “Following the recent tests on cladding at the Royal Infirmary we introduced a range of measures to ensure safety at the hospital, including preventing patients from smoking in close proximity to the building.

“We actively discourage smokers from lighting up outside the Royal Infirmary, but this is an emotive issue often compounded by the stress people experience when visiting hospital for treatment or to support family or friends.

“The Scottish Government is in the process of developing a more robust policy with regards to smoking on hospital grounds and we look forward to the introduction of new regulations.”