SPECIAL anti-smoking wardens are being proposed by the Scottish Government as the way to stop people puffing on cigarettes in hospital grounds.
Public Health Minister Michael Matheson has urged health boards to consider dedicated patrols after a pilot study in Glasgow halved the number of smokers around hospital entrances.
Under plans announced by the Scottish Government earlier this year, NHS boards will be required to implement and enforce smoke-free policies across their grounds by March 2015.
Earlier this week the Evening News revealed that NHS Lothian has warned staff they could face the sack if they were caught smoking outside Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
Current rules permit smoking only in designated smoking shelters, but when the News visited the Royal Infirmary last month we found dozens of smokers, including hospital staff, hanging around outside.
The problem is said to have improved dramatically in recent weeks.
But Mr Matheson said the Glasgow pilot could point the way forward – although three wardens quit within days of starting work because of the aggression they faced.
He said: “Boards should consider all options for tackling smoking in their grounds, including the use of wardens, and share learning between boards.”
Some health boards are said to be taking on their own staff, or training security workers to tackle those who ignore no-smoking signs.
Fiona Dunlop, of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said their pilot had been a success. She said: “It is about a permanent culture change. The culture at the moment is that it is OK to smoke at hospital entrances.
“We were getting a lot of complaints from the public, staff and patients saying this is ridiculous – this is a health organisation and there are people smoking at the entrances.”
The trial has also included high-visibility posters and markings on the floor around hospital entrances.
In February, staff counted the smokers outside hospitals during a one-hour period. This was repeated again in July, after wardens were brought in. Numbers dropped from 404 to 208.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health Scotland, welcomed the use of wardens by Glasgow.
She said: “We hope other NHS boards will have similar success.”
But former Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm, Labour MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, was not convinced.
He said: “Although I’m totally against smoking, I wouldn’t personally take a draconian policy.
“It doesn’t sound as if the wardens pilot has been totally effective. I’m not convinced it is the best use of resources.”