WORKERS at one of the country’s biggest smoke-free hospitals are under fire for smoking in nearby residential estates.
Tony McNamara, the CEO of Cork University Hospital (CUH), has been forced to write to them warning them that they should not wear their uniforms while smoking in public.
It follows a string of complaints from hospital neighbours about staff gathering outside their homes for smoking breaks.
Last May, CUH became the first hospital outside Dublin to declare itself a smoke-free zone.
Leading respiratory consultant Dr Barry Plant said a survey at CUH revealed that 73% of patients and 64% of staff, including smokers, were in favour of the hospital becoming a smoke-free campus.
The survey also found that 56% of inpatients who smoked said they wanted to give up cigarettes and the new policy would assist them in that regard.
However, a meeting of the Health Service Executive (HSE) South regional health forum has been told the policy isn’t working.
Fianna Fáil Cllr Mary Shields said staff, patients and visitors are now hiding like “schoolboys behind bike sheds” for a cigarette.
They are causing annoyance to residents in nearby housing estates, where on one day alone this week, one resident counted 18 smokers outside her home.
“I totally agree with the no smoking policy – in the interests of public health,” Cllr Shields said.
“But the difficulty here is in implementing the policy. It’s not working.”
She said allowing hospital staff to smoke outside in their uniforms poses huge infection control concerns.
She asked HSE managers to treat the smokers with dignity and provide dedicated sheltered smoking zones on the CUH campus.
However, Ger Reaney, the interim network manager of the HSE’s southern hospitals groups, said there are no plans to provide shelters, given CUH’s smoke-free status, and its designation as cancer centre.
“Such a facility would not be consistent with the status of the hospital as a smoke-free campus,” he said.
He said the hospital’s CEO has written to each member of staff, asking that they be “mindful of the feelings” of the hospital’s neighbours.
“Staff have been reminded that they should not wear their uniforms when smoking in public and they have also been made aware of infection control standards when in uniform,” Mr Reaney said.
He told forum members that there would be “teething difficulties” in the first few months and said he has for some time tried to address the concerns.
In January 2009, St Vincent’s in Dublin became the first Irish hospital to introduce a smoke-free campus policy, followed by Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown in May 2009. The Mater Hospital is also a smoke-free campus.
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