The sight of smokers crowding outside the doors of North Wales hospitals could soon become a thing of the past.
It comes as the region’s health board prepares to take a tougher stance against people smoking on the grounds of Wrexham Maelor Hospital, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Ysbyty Gwynedd.
New regulations are set to come into force across Wales later this year to extend bans on the use of cigarettes to areas outside medical facilities.
While most hospitals already have a no-smoking policy within their grounds, it is currently difficult for staff to enforce against it.
Officials from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said under the tighter rules fines would be handed to anyone caught smoking on site by working with local authorities.
The news has been welcomed by a county councillor in Wrexham, who has branded the large number of discarded cigarettes dumped outside the town’s hospital as ‘disgusting’.
Wrexham councillor Nigel Williams brought the issue to wider attention last month by posting a picture on Twitter of cigarette butts left below a no-smoking sign outside the main entrance.
He said: “I’m at the hospital a couple of times a week and people just don’t seem to care to be honest. I’ve seen people smoking outside in wheelchairs before.
“I do appreciate some people do smoke and they find it hard to give up, but it’s not fair on the general public having to walk through a blanket of fog as you walk in and out of the door.
“If you’ve got respiratory problems it’s not very nice and it’s not good for people with medical problems. I fully agree with this and I know the legislation is due to change later this year.”
Patient surveys conducted by the health board show that smoking outside hospital entrances is one of the main sources of annoyance for visitors.
Alarms issuing loudspeaker messages were previously installed outside the three hospitals in a bid to stamp out the issue. However, complaints about people lighting up have persisted.
Betsi Cadwaladr’s public health officer said it was hoped the new regulations would help to ‘de-normalise’ smoking.
In a report set to go before board members next week, Delyth Jones said: “Smoking is the leading cause of preventable ill health and avoidable premature mortality in Wales.
“The percentage of adults smoking across Wales is decreasing, however, adult smoking prevalence across North Wales is still at 19 per cent.
“Welsh Government (WG) consulted on the draft Smoke Free Premises and Vehicles (Wales) Regulations 2018 last year, and these are due to come into force later this year.
“Key provisions in the draft regulations of direct relevance to the health board are the extension of the smoking ban to outdoor areas of hospital grounds and the requirement for health boards to work with local authorities to agree enforcement strategies with fixed penalties for anyone smoking on site
“(Also) the provision of signage within clearly marked boundaries in a prominent position at or near the main entrance, to include following text “It is against the law to smoke in these hospital grounds”.
A task force has been set up by the health board in order to make sure the requirements are met.
Under the legislation, hospitals will still be given discretion to provide designated areas for smoking within their grounds subject to certain conditions.
However, Mrs Jones said Betsi Cadwaladr did not support having any in North Wales because of the need for the NHS to set an example.
It is also expected that all mental health units in the region will be completely smoke free by 2021.
By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter (more here on the LDR scheme).