Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King’s Lynn set to abandon ‘unenforceable’ smoking ban and build smokers’ shelters
A Norfolk hospital is abandoning a smoking ban on its site after five years campaigning to enforce it.
Three new smoking shelters costing �17,000 are set to be built at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn.
Health chiefs said they would move 'hardened smokers' away from its main entrance, where many light up just yards from signs warning that the hospital is a smoke-free site.
A ban on smoking at the hospital, introduced across the NHS in 2007, was flouted by many visitors, patients and staff. The QEH said the no-smoking rule was also found to be impossible to enforce legally.
Gwyneth Wilson, director of patient experience at the QEH, said: 'We are still committed to encouraging visitors, patients and staff to stop smoking, for the benefit of their health.
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'Dealing with smoking-related illnesses costs the NHS a huge sum each year which could usefully be spent on treating other conditions.
'The smoking ban imposed on all NHS sites was largely ignored by visitors and patients and we had no legal powers to enforce it.
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'Our staff often experienced abuse and threats when we asked smokers to stop or offered help via the NHS to kick their habit.'
Mrs Wilson said the hospital would continue to promote the NHS's stop smoking service 'at every available opportunity'. She said this would include encouraging smokers to attend smoking cessation clinics or to obtain help from local pharmacies, GP practices and other occupational health advice services.
But she added: 'We have to accept that smoking is a vital safety valve for some people if they are dealing with a stressful situation or have received bad news.
'Having the smoking shelter will give smokers the opportunity to move away from the front entrance to the hospital, where cigarette smoke was causing distress to many visitors and staff.'
One of the shelters will be built at the front of the hospital. Its walls will feature 'rural scenes', to help it blend in.
Others will be located in the main car park and at the side of the main hospital block, by the staff cycle compound. Shelters will contain a display panel for information on quitting smoking.
'We are still committed to encouraging visitors, patients and staff to stop smoking, for the benefit of their health,' said Mrs Wilson.
'Dealing with smoking-related illnesses costs the NHS a huge sum each year which could usefully be spent on treating other conditions.'
Last night the QEH's new stance was supported by leading smoke-free campaign group ASH - Action on Smoking and Health.
Martin Dockrell, its director of research and policy, said: 'Without doubt, the ideal from a health point of view would be to have no smoking in hospital grounds at all but the top priority for any smokefree rules is to protect people from secondhand smoke.
'If patients with asthma, heart conditions or at risk of a stroke are having to walk through clouds of smoke at the hospital entrance, the hospital management have to tackle that urgently.
'The second priority should be to help smokers who want to quit. Providing patients and visitors with a little advice and enough nicotine gum or patches is the best way to help them manage their cravings and it might even show them that quitting might be easier than they think.'
The QEH is not the first hospital in East Anglia to change direction over smoking on site. Shelters went up at the James Paget Hospital, at Gorleston, in June.
A spokesman for the JPH said: 'The Trust reintroduced smoking shelters earlier in the year and there has been a fall in the number of complaints and comments regarding smoking at the main entrance.
'Having the shelters on site also makes it easier to challenge people who smoke at the front of the building and direct them to the designated areas, away from patients, visitors and staff.'
A spokesman for the West Suffolk Hospital, at Bury St Edmunds, said: 'We are considering the possibility of introducing smoking shelters for patients, although no decision has yet been taken.'
The Norfolk and Norwich Universtity Hospital said: 'Smoking was banned on site in 2005 and there are no plans build smoking shelters.'