Doubts cast over feasibility of smoke-free hospital site

One of the 'Smoke-Free' site signs that has popped up outside hospitals and health centres across the Southern Trust.

One of the 'Smoke-Free' site signs that has popped up outside hospitals and health centres across the Southern Trust.

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Concerns have been raised ahead of the move to make Craigavon Area Hospital a ‘smoke-free’ site from next week.

The ‘smoke-free’ transition will roll out across all health and social care sites within the Southern Health and Social Care Trust from March 9, prohibiting staff, patients, visitors and contracted workers from smoking anywhere within Trust grounds, buildings and entrances.

Perhaps the most contentious element of the plan is the ban on smoking within hospital car parks - which extends as far as to ban individuals from smoking inside their cars.

One local resident, who visits Craigavon Area Hospital on a regular basis, has taken issue with the Trust’s plan and called it a ‘joke’.

“I think it’s a ridiculous rule,” said the Gilford man. “They’ve been coming down on smokers for years and years. We all have our own habits - some are addicted to alcohol or prescription drugs - but smokers have always been particularly frowned upon.”

The Gilford resident pointed out the difficulties that the Trust might encounter in trying to monitor whether or not people are smoking in their vehicles - and questioned whether the Trust even had the authority to disallow such behaviour:

“If Craigavon Area Hospital hasn’t bought my car - hasn’t taxed or insured it - how can they tell me what to do in my own car? Which is the biggest air pollution - smoking or cars, lorries and other vehicles?

“If my car is parked in that car park, how are they going to enforce their smoking ban? Are they going to call the police?”

A spokesperson for the Trust responded by saying that smoking on Trust sites would be ‘monitored by staff’:

“No ‘smoke warden(s)’ will be employed nor will police be involved.”

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust conducted a survey in November 2014 in order to determine the views of staff, patients and service users about the ‘smoke-free’ move, with 65.5% of respondents responding in favour of the decision.

The ‘smoke-free’ move on March 9 coincides with ‘National No Smoking Day’, following the commitment made last year by former Health Minister, Jim Wells, that all health and social care sites would be smoke free by March 2016. The plans have been widely publicised, though it remains to be seen how they will roll out over the coming months - and this ‘smoke-free’ initiative will depend on the willingness of staff, patients and visitors to comply.