Smoking could soon be banned in the buildings and grounds of NHS hospitals across England. Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England, has written an open letter urging NHS trusts to support him in his campaign for a “tobacco-free NHS”, citing “significant short-term savings” and reductions in “demand”.
Selbie says he believes that “we can make the NHS a place that provides a supportive tobacco-free environment for patients, staff and visitors, where helping people quit is fully integrated into their treatment”. Smoking remains the single biggest cause of premature death in England, costing the NHS £2 billion each year. More than one million smokers are admitted to NHS hospitals each year, with 475,000 admissions directly attributable to smoking. 25% of hospital patients are smokers. “I am asking for your help to reach smokers who are in your hospital waiting rooms, consulting rooms and beds,” says Selbie.
He insists that his plan is a genuine attempt to help people, and not to force smokers to quit. “Seven out of ten say they want to quit,” he says. “So it’s the chance when they’re in the hospital to get them in touch with people who can help. And we know if you get that help, you’re four times more likely to quit forever.” Under Selbie’s proposals, patients admitted for long stays will be offered nicotine replacement therapy.
Some hospitals have already adopted a smoke-free policy, but it is still legal to smoke in the grounds of 9 out of 10 NHS hospitals, and many patients, visitors and staff are thought to flout official restrictions. If the ban comes into place, simply smoking outside hospital buildings and even doctors surgeries could become illegal. It’s not yet clear how the ban would be enforced, or what kinds of sanctions would apply, although Medway NHS Foundation Trust in Kent, which has introduced a smoking ban, employs wardens to patrol its grounds. Smoking was banned in the grounds of hospitals across Northern Ireland last year, with patients, staff and visitors barred from smoking tobacco and e-cigarettes in hospital car parks, and even inside their own cars.