Area for smokers created at Tunbridge Wells Hospital - Tell Us What You Think
MILLIONS of pounds a year are spent by the National Health Service trying to encourage people to quit smoking.
The Government invested £2.7 million in its current anti-smoking campaign, which graphically shows a cancerous tumour growing inside a cigarette.
But at the epicentre of health and wellbeing in Tunbridge Wells, the borough's state-of-the-art hospital in Pembury, it is commonplace to see staff, patients and visitors lighting up near the entrance enjoying a cigarette.
Signs dotted around Tunbridge Wells Hospital clearly state it is a "smoke-free" site and warn that those found smoking will be asked to leave.
But the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust now provides cigarette bins in an unofficial smoking area on the grounds in an effort to deter smokers from congregating immediately outside the front doors.
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On Monday the Courier spoke to staff, patients and visitors using the area at the hospital in Tonbridge Road to see what they thought about the glaring contradiction of smoking on hospital grounds.
Patient Donna Cooper, 26, who was smoking after taking a break from treatment, said it helped her get out off the ward.
She said: "I do agree with how they do it here. You used to get people congregating outside the main doors but now they have moved it up here. It is far away.
"I do think that staff should not be able to smoke outside because they are going back and treating patients."
The new smoking area overlooks the outdoor car parks, is around 150 yards from the front door and partly covered by a shelter.
Many of the people the Courier spoke to were members of staff who, despite being healthcare professionals, felt they needed to get out of the hospital on their break.
Nurse Charlotte Tapp, 20, said she could understand why some people may have an issue with employees smoking but felt it was important to get off the ward.
She said: "It is nice to come out and get some fresh air. All of our staff areas are in the ward and there is no place outside.
"It is a nice break for us and it can be a break for visitors and patients.
"It is not right to smoke on the main road because it would stop people coming into the hospital."
The NHS trust admitted it was a difficult situation and said the best thing to do was to "manage" the problem because spending funds on policing smokers would take cash away from vital services.
Spokesman Darren Yates said: "We rely on people to respect our no smoking policy and the vast majority do.
"At the same time we try to manage those who do not by keeping them in a single area which we do not actively promote, but can keep clean and away from our main entrances into the hospital.
"We offer our staff and patients information about smoking cessation and are helping reduce the number of smokers who work at or receive care in our hospitals.
"If there's an overwhelming public view that we should spend some of our finite resources for patient care on policing our grounds, that is something we would look at, but we would appeal to people's public mindedness first."
Campaign groups on either side of the smoking debate said they had sympathy with the trust's predicament.