SMOKING in hospital grounds has long been a divisive issue – there are those who loathe facing plumes of smoke as they enter hospital buildings, and others who cannot wait to get outside to light up.
But the impact goes way beyond an unpleasant odour in the entrance. That’s is why I’m calling on the Government to support our NHS trusts to make hospitals smoke-free and to catch-up with legislation in Wales and Scotland.
This issue is the subject of a Ten Minute Rule Bill I am proposing in Parliament which I’m hoping will gain enough support from other MPs to eventually become law.
In doing so I will have to convince other MPs of the benefits, in the knowledge that some may view it as some sort of attempted nanny-state intervention. I know I’ve my work cut out, but I firmly believe it’s the right thing to do.
Our country has already taken great steps in raising public awareness about the risks and harm of smoking, and I doubt there are many children who are not aware that smoking is linked to cancer and other life-threatening conditions.
Various pieces of legislation have been passed limiting where people can smoke – workplaces and public buildings both have bans in place, and if there’s a roof, you can’t spark up.
Yet in hospitals, the very places we go to recover from our ills, people smoke freely right outside the front door. To me it undermines the role of the hospital as a health promoter.
In my constituency of Batley and Spen, we’re served by the Mid Yorkshire Hospital Trust which runs Dewsbury and Pinderfields Hospitals. It was the issues which staff and patients at the Trust face that provided the inspiration for this Bill.
And while I point out these examples, it’s important to note that smoking is already banned on the premises – but the legislation to enforce it sadly does not exist.
The issues it causes staff and patients alike vary in severity, but cumulatively can have a significant impact. The most obvious being the smell as you enter or leave hospital buildings, something you have no choice but to do in most circumstances. And with a number of smokers continually congregated outside entrances, it can cause congestion and block access for less mobile or disabled visitors.
While smoking is a free-for-all as soon as visitors hit the fresh air, it will also have an impact on services.
Our hardworking and overstretched NHS staff are often asked to escort patients outside and wait with them while they smoke, often taking them away from important duties. Wheelchairs can be difficult to find as smokers are using them and volunteers who have given up their time are subject to complaints from members of the public.
One of the Trust’s neo-natal wards can’t even open their windows because the smoke would come in.
Just think of the risk we’re putting newborn babies and patients who have breathing difficulties. Not to mention the abuse staff have faced when they’ve asked smokers to put out their cigarettes. To change this, and achieve truly smoke-free hospital grounds, we need legislation.
Mid Yorkshire Trust has introduced a speaker system to inform smokers where they shouldn’t be smoking, but without the legislation it’s not enough.
If we’re to see truly smoke-free hospital grounds we need the Government to take notice.
And this is much wider than Mid Yorkshire. What I’m really calling for is legislative support for NHS trusts seeking to implement the Government’s smoker NHS estate initiative, as laid out in the 2017 Tobacco Control Plan for England.
This is wider than simply installing ‘no smoking’ signs. It’s about creating a culture than is in favour of quitting.
I want to see this legislation as part of a package that includes support for smokers to quit or abstain from smoking – and receive encouragement to do so while on hospital grounds.
By this summer, we should see smoking banned in hospital grounds in Wales and similar legislation has been passed in Scotland. It’s time we followed suit. And that’s exactly why I am proposing this simple Bill. It is a proposal that will give support to our Trusts to make hospital grounds smoke-free by taking a burden off our NHS staff, creating a more pleasant experience for patients and visitors alike.
Tracy Brabin is the Labour MP for Batley and Spen.