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SUSAN BIRSE: Health Matters correspondent on why ignoring the Scottish ban on smoking in hospital grounds like NHS Highland's is not only unpleasant but potentially harmful to other patients

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Susan Birse.
Susan Birse.

We all know that smoking is bad for our health – and for the health of people around us exposed to second-hand smoke. Keeping public places smoke-free has been a successful way to help people quit, and as someone working in public health I’ve been so pleased to see real improvements in people’s wellbeing thanks to legislation limiting smoking.

That legislation is due to be added to. On September 5, new legislation will come into force which makes it an offence to smoke within 15m of hospital buildings, canopies, doorways and windows. This applies only to hospitals and not other NHS buildings.

Why do we need this legislation? At NHS Highland we need to set a good example of protecting and promoting the public’s health and support people in their efforts to stop smoking. We also want to provide accessible and open places which promote good health and lifestyle choices.

Despite NHS Scotland adopting a smoke-free hospital grounds policy across all of its hospital sites in 2015, people continue to smoke on hospital grounds. This can be unpleasant and a potential health risk to patients, visitors and staff as well as the litter being unsightly.

While the smoke-free grounds policy has had some impact, smoking on hospital grounds continues to be the subject of many complaints to health boards and to the Scottish Government.

Changes are being made to smoking outside hospitals.
Changes are being made to smoking outside hospitals.

The main aims of introducing a formal no-smoking area around hospital buildings are to:

• Reinforce the idea that smoking is not what most people do

• Reduce the use of tobacco across the population

• Prevent or reduce exposure to second-hand smoke

My colleague Dr Tim Allison, director of public health at NHS Highland, is calling for the public in the Highlands to support this legislation. He says: “The NHS exists to protect the health of every person and to promote healthy behaviour. Unfortunately, some hospitals have experienced challenges and not all people who smoke have complied with the voluntary smoke-free policy. Some hospitals in our area have reported people who smoke congregating around main entrance doors or near windows causing smoke to drift into wards, offices and reception areas.”

It’s frustrating to hear people continue to smoke here, especially as hospital grounds are a place where we should be even more aware of looking out for each other.

Smoking is an addiction that is often hard to quit. I know that stopping smoking – or even refraining from it for a few hours – is not an easy thing to do on your own. And that is why we are here to help. Smoke-free services help thousands of people in Scotland stop smoking every year.

All patients who smoke coming into our hospitals should be offered the option of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to support them with any withdrawals during their stay or offered support to stop smoking. Patients can ask a nurse at any time for this, if it is not initially offered.

We are confident that with our help you can quit, and with encouragement and support make your life and the lives of those around you smoke free.

Please respect our colleagues and be courteous and polite if any staff member reminds you of the legislation. If you must smoke on hospital grounds, make sure you are well outside the formal no-smoking area.

For further information, please visit Smoke Free Highland, for a smoke free life (scot.nhs.uk).

• Susan Birse is health improvement principal at NHS Highland.

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