Patients dressed in medical gowns are ignoring ‘no smoking’ signs to stand outside Blackpool Victoria Hospital to puff away – and NHS bosses have admitted they are powerless to stop them.
The issue, which includes women on the maternity unit nipping outside for a cigarette, was raised during a meeting of the NHS trust.
Director of nursing and quality Marie Thompson told colleagues it was “a challenge” for staff to prevent patients going outside to smoke,
She added: “Not only [is smoking] against trust policy, the patients were outside in cold weather wearing only bed clothes.”
The Gazette visited the hospital, in Whinney Heys Road, for just 15 minutes – and snapped a number of people smoking.
A sign just inches away from one woman, who was sat in a hospital chair with a medical wristband on, reads: “Smoking is prohibited in all areas of this site, including all doorways, buildings, grounds, and car parks.”
The meeting also highlighted the “withdrawal” of “the resources to provide support for” stop smoking services in a town where one in five adults smoke – and pregnant mums are set to be promised shopping vouchers in exchange for giving up.
In April last year, following a review of its services, Blackpool Council decided to decommission its specialist stop smoking provision as the contract ran out. This including paying GPs for referring patients to its service and cost around £20,000 a year.
The review looked at whether the service was effective and provided value for money.
Interim services were put in place while a new system was set up, which was due to be up and running by the start of next month.
Health commissioners in Blackpool were “aware of the issue but there had been no indication of any action being taken”, governors were told.
The total cost of smoking to society in England is estimated to be around £12.9bn a year, according to public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
That includes the cost to the NHS of treating diseases, and lost productivity due to early deaths, smoking breaks, and absenteeism.
However, it noted smoking brings in around £12.3bn for the government every year, which includes VAT and revenue from tobacco duties.
Ms Thompson said hospital chiefs are now working with the council and clinical commissioning group (CCG), which is responsible for organising and paying for residents’ healthcare, on “a number of new initiatives to tackle smoking on site”, which it is “hoping to announce soon”.
She added: “Smoking on site is against trust policy, and supporting staff, patients and visitors to quit smoking is of high importance to the organisation.
“We run regular awareness and advice sessions on smoking and, throughout the next six weeks, the Stoptober campaign [which asks smokers to quit for October] will be promoted across the organisation encouraging people to quit for good.”
Resort still one of worst
Although the number of people who smoke in Blackpool is lower than in previous years, the resort still has a higher number of people puffing on cigarettes than the national average.
The latest figures show around 22 per cent of adults in the resort smoke, down from 26.9 in 2015 when Blackpool topped the table in England.
Yet it still has one of the highest figures in the country, and it was reported last year that more people in the resort were dying from smoking related illnesses than when smoking indoors was outlawed in 2007.
A month ago, Blackpool Council launched a new initiative to try and reduce the number of expectant mothers who smoked. The authority said the matter remains a concern and is being taken seriously.
Coun Amy Cross, the councillor responsible for health, said: “We offer general support such as information on national and web-based helplines through to adopting a more targeted approach to working with people with multiple health needs, pregnant women and young people.
“We work closely with other organisations to ensure that smokers are offered advice and help according to their needs and preferred level of support.”
The impact of lower smoking rates will be seen over a longer term, it is hoped, and officials are particularly keen to tackle smoking amongst youngsters.
Voucher offers to quit
Pregnant women could be offered shopping vouchers and other incentives to give up smoking, as part of the council’s crackdown on smoking.
They would be able to spend the vouchers in high street shops or save them up to visit Blackpool’s attractions.
The proposal has been included in details of a new stop smoking service being considered by health chiefs in the resort. The plan was launched after figures showed nearly a third of mums-to-be in the resort continued to smoke.
According to an NHS Digital report published earlier this year, 27.8 per cent of expectant mothers in Blackpool smoked until they gave birth between last October and December, the worst rate in the country.
The proposed new stop smoking service will also offer more support to all smokers in the town.
This will include advice in leaflets and websites, advice on nicotine replacement therapies, and access to helplines.
A council spokesman said the payment would be offered in the form of LOVE2SHOP vouchers, which can be used in more than 100 UK shops including Argos, Debenhams, WHSmith, New Look and Oasis.
They can also be used at a number of attractions including Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Madame Tussauds, Alton Towers and Legoland.
Six in 10 don’t manage it
Just a third of the people using the NHS Stop Smoking Service in Blackpool managed to quit, according to the latest figures.
In the 12 months from April 2017 to March this year, 841 people in Blackpool signed up with the NHS Stop Smoking Service and set themselves a date to quit.
At follow up meetings four weeks later 290 people – 34 per cent – said they had given up, according to data from NHS England. The average rate for England was 51 per cent.
The Stop Smoking Service has been provided by local authorities rather than the NHS since 2013.
The total cost of the service in Blackpool was £150,625, which is equivalent to £519 for each person that quit.
Nationally, fewer people are using stop smoking services.
Campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says that the popularity of e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting explains some of the decline – but not all of it.
They say tighter council budgets, less publicity nationally about services, and an apparent reduction in GPs prompting people to take up the service may also be to blame.
Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at ASH, said: “We want to see investment going back into funding these services.”