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NHS patients and staff face new crackdown on smoking

Pro-choice campaigner questions legality of outdoor ban

Published: 31/07/2010


Patients will be warned they could be refused treatment if they ignore strict new rules, which are expected to be backed by the health board’s executive committee next week.

Bosses have finalised plans to block staff, patients and visitors from smoking on any NHS Grampian premises – including hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and clinics – from January next year.

Once the ban is fully implemented by the beginning of 2012, patients will face the threat of treatment being withdrawn if they ignore requests to stub out.

Papers going before the board reveal that the ban would even stop staff from smoking while wearing their uniforms – or even just an NHS badge – at any time.

The controversial proposals were brought forward originally in February 2009 but shelved just months later following a public backlash.

Union officials previously described the proposals as “ridiculous” and opponents lined up last night to criticise their sudden return.

Staff will be banned from smoking at any point during their working day, even during breaks, and will also be in charge of enforcing the new rules, without putting themselves “at risk of abuse”.

Any staff found not complying with the ban will face disciplinary action and could be sacked. Even carrying tobacco will be deemed an offence.

Last night, Eddie Douthwaite, Scottish chairman of the Freedom2Choose pro-choice organisation, questioned whether such a ban would be legal.

He said: “The legality of this ban is in question because the smoking ban is about smoking indoors.

“We are talking about outdoors here and there are no provisions within the law that relate to that. So I can’t see how they will ban smoking outdoors. In current economic times, where there are jobs under threat, why are they even wasting time discussing this idea?”

Former Aberdeen City Council leader Kate Dean said last night she did not think it was ethical to stop people in “life-changing situations” from smoking.

“I think these proposals are fraught with danger,” she said.

“NHS Grampian needs to realise the people can’t and won’t give up smoking overnight.

“While I realise that they are trying to help, it’s important that facilities are available for people who smoke. We are talking about people in life-changing situations here.

“If this goes through, we are going to have people in pyjamas walking down Westburn Road, which would be the nearest place to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary where they could smoke.

“I am worried that people will be put in danger by leaving hospital grounds.”

Margaret Watt, of the Scotland Patients Association, said banning smoking around hospitals was the right thing to do – but said compassion must be shown to people who are dying.

“We all know about the damage that smoking does to people’s health and the sight of cigarette butts lying at hospital doors makes me sick.

“However, we have to show compassion and understanding toward people in hospices who are dying. They are in the last stages of their lives and should not be distressed.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said a balance would be struck when dealing with “distressed” patients.

“NHS Grampian recognises that in exceptional circumstances it may not be appropriate for staff to ask some distressed patients or visitors not to smoke,” she said.

“We also recognise that some people, patients and staff, will experience discomfort when deprived of the nicotine. We do not wish to cause these people distress, but cannot support smoking.

“We will support the taking of nicotine in safe, clinically approved ways to relieve the discomfort of people who habitually use it.”

NHS Grampian’s board is expected to approve the plans at a meeting in Woodhill House, Aberdeen, on Tuesday.

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