THE HSE says it will enforce a “zero tolerance” policy on tobacco at all acute hospitals in Limerick from next month with security staff detailed to move smokers off hospital grounds if they light up.
The only exemptions at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital are to apply to psychiatric patients and those patients who get permission from their consultant to smoke in a designated area to the rear of the hospital, which will be accessed by a swipe card between the hours of 8am and 10pm.
Local councillor Richard Butler agrees with the ban on smoking by visitors but says allowing patients to smoke only when permitted by senior doctors is “excessive” and the nightly curfew could endanger patients by forcing them out onto the roadway.
Cllr Butler, a member of the HSE West Forum and a smoker, said “no way should there be a policy where patients can only go for a smoke on the say-so of a consultant”.
“Patients are stressed enough as it is to be in hospital and if they feel they need a cigarette, they should be allowed to access a designated area any time they wish. I don’t expect a smoking area for visitors but there are lots of elderly people in hospital whose only luxury is having a cigarette. A lot of doctors will tell you in private that they should be allowed to smoke if it helps. We should not have a policy where such people are put at risk if they have to leave the grounds to smoke,” said Cllr Butler.
Patients on wheelchairs and on drips are a regular sight having a puff at the front of the hospital but this is to end next month, when the gazebo for smokers will be closed.
The Regional Hospital already has a policy prohibiting smoking at the front of the building and while loudspeaker announcements regularly remind patrons of this, the rules are widely flouted.
Security will from June 1 ask people to leave the grounds but the HSE has acknowledged there are no legal penalties which can be imposed should patients or visitors ignore the policy.