Belfast Telegraph

Smokers at Antrim hospital doors unacceptable, says trust

People smoking outside Antrim Area Hospital
People smoking outside Antrim Area Hospital

By Gillian Halliday

Health authorities have warned the public not to flout the smoking ban after a group of smokers were pictured at the entrance of a hospital in Co Antrim.

Since 2016 all health and social care sites have been smoke free - including e-cigarettes - inside or within the grounds.

However, the Northern Trust was forced earlier this week to ask for visitors and patients to comply with the policy after around six people with cigarettes were spotted outside the main entrance to Antrim Area Hospital.

In a Facebook post the Trust described the flouting of the ban as "unacceptable" - given there were vulnerable people nearby.

"There is a woman leaving the hospital with a baby in a car seat, with no choice but to walk through the cloud of smoke," the post reads.

"A person using a wheelchair is also having issues accessing the doorway as there are smokers standing in their way." The post - which claimed some of the smokers were understood to be patients - continued: "Remember, the policy is in place for a reason, to protect all those who use our sites."

Under 2006 legislation it is an offence for anyone to smoke in enclosed spaces in both public and work spaces, punishable by a fixed penalty notice.

However, the scope of the legislation does not cover hospital grounds meaning it is not currently enforceable by way of fines.

The situation has prompted the PHA to appeal for public support in ensuring the ban is not breached.

"(We work) alongside five HSC trusts to support the embedding of smoke-free trust policy," they said in a statement.

"The five trusts have all invested much time and effort in implementing this policy and addressing the associated challenges, one of which includes smoking breaches, particularly around hospital entrances."

The agency stressed that its aim is not to "punish" smokers but to urge them to avail of health services on offer to help them quit. They continued: "We would appeal to the public to continue to support the smoke free policy when accessing services."

In a statement yesterday the Northern Trust admitted non-smokers were being inconvenienced by those who chose to ignore the ban at its sites.

"People naturally feel uncomfortable and get annoyed when they have to walk through groups of smokers at doorways on their way to appointments," said a spokesperson.

"Smoking goes completely against everything we are trying to do and causes 2,300 deaths in Northern Ireland each year."

The statement continued: "(We) would remind everyone smoking and e-cigarette use are not allowed inside or outside at any of its sites such as hospitals and day centres. This includes doorways, car parks, behind buildings or on Trust grounds."

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