Patients, staff and visitors to hospitals within the Western Health Trust will be asked to stub out their cigarettes from today, as it becomes the first health trust in the Province to go smoke-free.
Coinciding with National No Smoking Day, the Trust has extended its smoke-free policy to cover buildings, entrances, pavements and car parks.
Smoking shelters have been removed and staff are being told they cannot smoke in their cars on site.
The Trust covers Altnagelvin Hospital, Lakeview Hospital, Waterside Hospital and Grangewood in Londonderry, Tyrone County Hospital and Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital, and the South West Acute Hospital in Fermanagh.
During the 18 months of planning, the Trust’s Smoke Free Board consulted with staff and patients, and concluded that a majority of both groups were in favour of the plan to prohibit smoking on the premises.
Dr Maura O’Neill, Head of Health Improvement and co-chair of the Board, said the move was part of “an overall initiative” which involves educating young people about the dangers of taking up smoking as well as supporting people who want to stop.
While the Trust is strongly encouraging people not to smoke on the premises, Dr O’Neill admitted there will not be fines for anyone who disobeys the new rules.
“We tried not to go down that route,” Dr O’Neill said.
“We know there may be times when there will be people smoking. This is now trust policy and we are asking people to support it.
“During our consultations, 70 per cent of staff and 76 per cent of patients agreed that this is the right thing to do – so we do feel we have the backing of the majority of people on this.
“We will provide a supportive environment for people, especially patients who come in who are smokers. They will be provided with care and advice on how to deal with withdrawal symptoms.”
Just under a quarter of the population in Northern Ireland smoke.
“This is the biggest cause of preventable illness, and leads to 2,300 deaths every year,” she said.
When challenged about whether the new policy takes away an element of choice for smokers, Dr O’Neill said: “We are a health care facility at the end of the day. Hopefully this new smoke-free policy is part of a wider cultural shift.”
Dr O’Neill said she understood the Western Trust will lead the way for other Trusts to follow suit by the end of 2015.
Spokespeople at the Department of Health and Public Health Agency said deciding to implement a smoke-free policy is up to individual Trusts.
Habit kills six people a day
Smoking kills around six people a day in Northern Ireland, according to statistics from Action Cancer. The charity is urging smokers to make a renewed effort to kick the habit, citing the risks of getting lung cancer, heart disease or a stroke.
Frances Dowds, health promotion manager at Action Cancer, said: “We are highlighting the impact of smoking to encourage those in the Northern Ireland population who currently smoke to seriously consider the harm they are causing themselves and those around them.”
The Western Trust Stop Smoking Service can be contacted on 0800 917 9388.