Health chiefs struggle to enforce smoking ban at Irish hospital
Published 09/04/2016 | 11:01
Almost a month after a complete ban on smoking in hospital grounds came into force, health officials admit they are struggling to stub out the practice.
In March the Belfast Health Trust announced a total ban on smoking on any part of its property.
Smoking huts were dismantled and signs put around its sites warning staff, patients and visitors in time for No Smoking Day on March 9.
The aim of the ban is to create a healthier environment for all using the facilities.
"It is unacceptable for patients, visitors and staff to be subjected to second-hand smoking while in health and social care facilities," said Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride when announcing the ban.
"By making this move we hope to both protect people's health directly and to influence cultural change by creating new norms around smoking in public."
One smoking warden was employed to police the ban across all Belfast Health Trust sites.
However, getting people to obey the ban has proved difficult for health chiefs.
A mother of a 11-week-old boy told how she had to walk through the fug of three "heavily pregnant women" at the doors of the maternity building at the Royal Victoria Hospital as she attended an appointment on Thursday.
Another man smoking in the site's bus shelter greeted her as she left. And - armed with his long lens - a photographer was able to snap people smoking in the grounds on Friday. All seemingly went unchallenged.
"It is ridiculous that people think they should smoke at the door of a hospital, never mind a maternity unit," the mother said.
"My son had to breathe it in as they were at the entrance of the building and there were signs everywhere telling people you couldn't smoke.
"I thought the hospital had stopped it."
A health service source said that management across all Northern Ireland health trusts "turn a blind eye" to smoking.
He said management did not want the ban but had to implement it on instructions from the Department of Health.
"There is a non-aggressive approach taken that so long as you aren't seen, you don't get caught," he said.
"It's something they will have difficulty stopping. People will find a way around it."
A Belfast Health Trust spokesman admitted it was struggling to enforce the ban and described it as more of a journey to eradicate smoking over time.
He added: "Belfast Trust along with all other health and social care organisations have introduced a smoke-free policy across Northern Ireland.
"To date we have had an excellent response on all our sites, but we continue to ask the public to support us by not smoking at any of our facilities.
"As a health trust we have a responsibility to ensure that patients, staff and visitors have access to a healthy, safe and clean environment while they are on our premises.
"Stopping smoking is the single most important thing a person can do to improve their health."