Tracy Brabin: It’s time to make hospital grounds smoke-free

Posted On: 
29th January 2019

It cannot be right that in hospitals, the very places we go to recover from our ills, people smoke freely right outside the front door, writes Tracy Brabin

"If we’re to see truly smoke-free hospital grounds we need legislation."
Credit: 
PA

Today Westminster is set to be all about the B word, once again. However, it isn’t just Theresa May who is seeking to unite the House of Commons. Before we get to the amendments and votes later this evening I will be making my case in a ten-minute rule to bill to ban smoking in NHS grounds.

I can also hear the sharp intake of breath at those very words. I’ve been made well aware of the views of some that this bill cruelly seeks to deny unwell people the ‘pleasure’ of smoking a cigarette. Indeed, others might say it’s nanny state and we – the politicians – should keep our noses out.

But it’s my view that this is legislation that the NHS needs. Smoking on NHS grounds causes problems far beyond the minor hindrance of an unpleasant odour at the door.

I know I have my work cut out, but I firmly believe it’s the right thing to do. In many ways it’s time that England simply catches up with the administrations in Wales and Scotland – both of which are passing legislation on this issue.

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.

In recent years plain packaging and bans on smoking in cars with children have both become laws.

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. The House of Commons hasn’t shied away from this issue in the past and it shouldn’t now.

In hospitals, the very places we go to recover from our ills, people smoke freely right outside the front door. To me it’s counter-intuitive and undermines the role of the hospital as a health promoter. I would challenge anyone to come up with a single reason for being in hospital that will be improved and healed by smoking.

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 concerns 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 vary in severity, but cumulatively can have a significant impact. And with a number of smokers continually congregated outside of entrances it can cause congestion and block access for less mobile or disabled visitors, a problem significantly worsened in bad weather.

While smoking is a free for all as soon visitors hit the fresh air, it will also have an impact on services. Our hardworking and over stretched NHS staff are often asked to escort patients outside and wait with them while they smoke. Staff are taken away from important duties to allow patients back into the ward after smoking. 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 as they’ve walked through the smokers to reach the entrance.

Shockingly 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 new-born babies and patients who have breathing difficulties at. Not to mention the abuse staff have faced when they’ve asked smokers to put out their cigarettes.

Mid Yorkshire Trust have 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 legislation.

What I’m really calling for today 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 that is in favour quitting rather than pro-smoking.

It’s worth remembering that the smoking population inside hospitals is higher than the general public and being unwell can be a major factor is quitting. In this moment we need to support those to make that change.

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 while I realise we have much work to do to stamp out smoking altogether – something I know all too well with a higher than average smoker rate of 17.1% in my district of Kirklees – we can do more. 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 of our NHS staff to create a more pleasant experience for patients and visitors alike.

Tracy Brabin is Labour MP for Batley and Spen