Health Minister Jim Wells has announced that smoking will not be permitted in the grounds of any HSC Trust facility from March 2016.
Speaking on No Smoking Day, the Minister said: “Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Northern Ireland, killing around 2,300 people each year.
“Today I am pleased to announce that all trusts, with the exception of the Western Trust who have already implemented the smoke free measures, are working towards being completely smoke-free from March next year. This will ensure a better quality environment for patients, staff and visitors of any health and social care facility in Northern Ireland.”
Under smoke-free legislation, which was introduced in 2007, smoking is not permitted in any enclosed or substantially enclosed public or work place. While the legislation has been very successful in terms of compliance, there have been some issues raised around people smoking at the entrances to buildings, particularly hospitals.
The Minister continued saying: “Approximately one third of cancer deaths could be avoided if people didn’t smoke. It is also a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, strokes and other diseases of the circulatory system and to treat smoking related illnesses in NI is costing in the region of £164million each year.
“Health Trusts need to demonstrate leadership when it comes to important issues of public health, such as smoking prevalence. The Western Trust led the way when it introduced a complete ban on smoking anywhere on its grounds or premises from No Smoking Day 2014. I am pleased, one year later, to be announcing that the same measures will apply across all HSC Trusts in Northern Ireland by March 2016.”
Encouraging people to give up smoking and seek help with their addiction the Minister said: “Patients who smoke can be reassured that they will not be left to cope alone with their nicotine addiction. They will be offered assistance in the form of nicotine replacement therapy and/or behavioural support by trained stop smoking advisors. Similar assistance will also be available to staff. For those staff and patients who don’t smoke, it is important that we protect them from exposure to second-hand smoke when they are on HSC Trust facilities.”
Gerry Bleakney, Strategic Lead for Tobacco Control with the Public Health Agency, said: “We know that stopping smoking isn’t easy but help is at hand. There is a wide range of services available to support people who want to quit, and to assist those in hospital who need to tackle their nicotine cravings. We hope that this move across all trusts will act as a turning point for many people, including patients, visitors and staff, who will see it as an opportunity to quit their smoking habit. For more information on support that is available, visit the PHA’s Want 2 Stop website.”
Senior Trust staff were recently offered the opportunity to learn from the experiences of the Western Trust during a seminar held by the Public Health Agency to encourage a collaborative approach to smoke-free grounds.
Commenting on the progress to date made by the Western Trust Chief Executive Elaine Way said: “The Western Trust is extremely proud to have reached this key milestone of being one year smoke-free. As the first Trust in Northern Ireland to become smoke-free across all facilities our patients, visitors and staff are reaping the benefits of having a healthier, cleaner and more pleasant environment.
“When we embarked on this Smoke-free journey, we knew it would be challenging. Although some challenges remain, overall the journey has been very positive, with a high rate of compliance. We remain committed to encouraging a cultural shift to enable people to live healthier more fulfilled lives – Smoke-free.”
Work is already underway at the remaining HSC Trusts with all Trusts committed to introducing the measure by No Smoking Day 2016. The ban will apply to all patients, staff and visitors while they are on HSC premises.