HOSPITAL bosses are prowling the Royal Lancaster Infirmary site in a bid to stop people flouting no smoking rules.
The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) banned staff, patients, visitors and contractors from lighting up at its hospitals in Lancaster, Kendal and Barrow, or in their grounds, in 2007.
But in a joint initiative also involving NHS North Lancashire and NHS Cumbria, it has now installed new, much larger signs in a bid to enforce the rule.
And the trust’s directors are taking the lead in enforcement by conducting a weekly walk around each site in a bid to catch transgressors.
It says staff who flout the rules “will be considered to have failed to comply with the Health Act 2006 and in particular the Smokefree Regulations”.
That could result in them being hit with a fixed penalty notice, or prosecution by Lancaster City Council, which has a legal duty to enforce the Smokefree Regulations.
Employees could also face disciplinary action for general misconduct.
Anna Smith, chair of UHMBT’s public health steering group, said: “Maintaining a smoke free environment in and around our hospitals is everyone’s business and we need to ensure it becomes the norm to benefit everyone’s health, to prevent littering and to strive for a positive hospital image.”
Paul Gardner, the trust’s Royal College of Nursing (RCN) representative, said it welcomed the ban in principle, but urged managers to use “common sense”.
“People should not really smoke in their working hours but we recognise that some people do choose to smoke and they should do so in their breaks and not on site,” he said.
“Staff are entitled to a 20 minute break for every six hours they work.
“It is a matter of negotiation with managers and flexibility and common sense has to rule. For instance, instead of taking a half an hour lunch, an employee might take 20 minutes at lunchtime then another 10 minutes later in their shift.”
Mr Gardner admitted the ban was difficult to enforce, especially for patients, whom he said could regularly be seen smoking outside the RLI’s Centenary Building.
“There is a duty of care to patients but you can’t physically restrain them from going off the ward,” he added.
“People are quite inventive in terms of how they deal with this situation and we’re aware that some do go off site so as not to be caught smoking.”
Support is available at the RLI for patients who need help managing nicotine withdrawal during their stay.
Advice on quitting is available from the NHS North Lancashire Stop Smoking Service on 01524 845145.
Benefits of stopping smoking include a reduced risk of suffering a heart attack or contracting lung cancer.