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Anti-smoking policy at two Dublin maternity hospitals being flouted by patients and visitors

In 2013, the Coombe, the Rotunda and the National Maternity Hospital became tobacco-free campuses.

An anti-smoking sign outside the main entrance to the Coombe hospital
An anti-smoking sign outside the main entrance to the Coombe hospital
Image: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

THE NO SMOKING policy at two of Dublin’s maternity hospitals is being flouted by patients and visitors, six years after it was announced the campuses would become smoke-free.

On 1 November 2013, the Coombe, the Rotunda and the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street became completely tobacco-free campuses with building entrances, doorways and car parks all included in places where the ban was implemented. 

All smoking shelters were dismantled or converted with cigarette bins also being removed from the hospitals in accordance with HSE policy.

Beaumont Hospital in Dublin also became a “tobacco-free campus” a year prior to this. However, TheJournal.ie spent 30 minutes outside the main entrance to the hospital’s building earlier this year and reported that the policy was being continuously flouted by patients and visitors. 

A similar situation has become evident at the Coombe and the Rotunda in Dublin. 

One morning last week, TheJournal.ie spent time outside the main entrance to the Coombe, the Rotunda and the National Maternity Hospital. 

Evidence of the policy being flouting was evident at the Coombe and the Rotunda, while there was evidence to suggest a possibility of the policy being flouted at the National Maternity Hospital. 

At the Coombe, TheJournal.ie stood within the grounds of the campus, outside the main door of the hospital.

From 10.25am to 10.45am, nine people were seen lighting up cigarettes on the campus of the Coombe hospital, outside the main entrance. 

It was a busy morning outside the hospital, with patients, staff members and visitors coming and going. 

IMG_3165 A sign reading 'This is a tobacco free campus' on the grounds of the Coombe Source: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

Before entering the campus, a large sign is erected which reads: “This is a tobacco free campus. Please consider the health of others around you and do not smoke.” Numerous signs similar to the above were visible outside the main door of the hospital. 

Dozens of cigarette butts were found along or near the pathway the main door to the hospital. More butts were found inside the gate to the campus. 

cigs1 Cigarette butts on the ground inside the campus of the Coombe Source: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

cigs3 More cigarette butts found inside the campus of the Coombe Source: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

Over the course of the 20 minutes, six people, some of whom were patients, were seen lighting up cigarettes on the campus before walking out onto path outside the hospital grounds.

One man was seen smoking just inside the gates of the hospital grounds. 

Nearing the end of the 20 minutes two pregnant women, both of whom appeared to be patients and were wearing pyjamas, left the hospital building and lit cigarettes directly in front of one of the anti-smoking signs. 

Two people were seen vaping. 

The Coombe has received two complaints so far this year in relation to smoking, according to a hospital spokesperson. 

“There are no-smoking signs which are clearly visible throughout the grounds to inform visitors that this is a non-smoking campus,” the hospital said in a statement.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland, with almost 6,000 smokers dying each year from tobacco-related diseases, according to the HSE. 

TheJournal.ie also spent 20 minutes outside the main entrance to the Rotunda hospital at Parnell Square. The Rotunda’s entrances faces onto a public path. 

rotunda1 The area within the blue lines outside the Rotunda Hospital is considered to be a no-smoking zone Source: Google Street View

The Rotunda has a zone outside the main entrance, on the public path, which is an ambulance bay. This area, which is designated as a smoke-free area, is marked out with blue lining.

Here, a paramedic was seen standing in front of an ambulance while he vaped. 

One man was seen standing in front of the doors of the main entrance while smoking a cigarette. 

Another man was seen walking towards the doors of the hospital smoking a cigarette before throwing the butt on the ground beside the ambulance parked outside. 

Numerous hospital staff were seen smoking near the vicinity of the main entrance, but remained outside the designated no-smoking zone outside the front doors. 

Nearing the end of the 20 minutes, one woman stood directly in front of the doors smoking a cigarette. 

TheJournal.ie also counted dozens of cigarette butts on the ground outside the main entrance within the no-smoking zone.

rotunda A no smoking sign is seen at the entrance to the Rotunda Source: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

IMG_3201 A cigarette butt found on the ground within the no smoking zone outside the Rotunda Source: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

Since the beginning of this year, one complaint has been received by the Rotunda regarding cigarette butts outside the front of the hospital and “how untidy it made the general area look”, according to a spokesperson for the hospital. 

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the Rotunda Hospital said “smoking is not allowed anywhere within the confines of the Rotunda campus” and that this is applicable to “all its employees, patients and visitors”. 

The spokesperson said “this is policed and enforced”. 

Speaking of the no smoking zone at the main entrance to the hospital, the spokesperson said: “The difficulty is this is a public pathway/thoroughfare and the Rotunda Hospital cannot police it and insist that people move on or stop smoking.”

The spokesperson said “the paths are cleared a number of times a day by portering staff”, but added: “Again, as this is a public pathway, it is impossible to be kept clean constantly.”

Finally, TheJournal.ie spent 20 minutes outside the National Maternity Hospital (NMH).

On Holles Street, a set of steps leads up to the main entrance of the NMH. The entrance to the NMH opens directly out onto the public road. The steps and ramp entrance are considered to be within the hospital grounds. 

Similar to the two other hospitals, it appeared to be a busy morning at the hospital, with staff members, visitors and patients coming and going. 

Numerous cigarette butts were found scattered along the path outside the main entrance. This area, it must be noted, is not considered to be the hospital grounds as it is a public path. 

Beside the main door, there is a wheelchair accessible entrance. Numerous cigarette butts were found along the ramp to this door, as seen below. This area is within the hospital grounds. 

Capture The wheelchair accessible entrance to the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street Source: Google Street View

IMG_3186 Cigarette butts seen scattered on the ground along the ramp entrance to the National Maternity Hospital Source: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

Over the course of the 20 minutes, numerous staff members and visitors could be seen standing close to the main entrance of the hospital smoking cigarettes. However, they were just outside the hospital grounds. 

At one point, a hospital worker in scrubs stood at the wheelchair ramp entrance while he smoked a cigarette.  

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson to for the NMH said: “The National Maternity Hospital is a no smoking campus, and there are no smoking signs in the building and outside informing people of this.”

The spokesperson said “the rule is enforced very strictly on hospital grounds”. 

“There is a blue line around the hospital perimeter, inside which smoking is not allowed,” they said. 

“The hospital opens directly onto the street, and people smoking on the street are not on hospital property.  However, if anyone is seen smoking on the steps or on the wheelchair ramp at the hospital entrance they are asked immediately to go to the street.” 

national maternity An anti-smoking sign outside the front entrance to the National Maternity Hospital Source: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

Speaking back in 2013 when the smoking ban at the maternity hospitals was announced, Master at the Coombe Dr Sharon Sheehan said: “The health and best interest of patients and staff is at the heart of everything we do at the Coombe. By supporting a smoke-free environment, we are ensuring a healthier environment for staff, women and babies.”

Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the NMH added: “Smoking causes so much disease and heartache. This is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to join together and help each other quit smoking. A large part of Ireland begins here at The National Maternity Hospital; let our babies grow up smoke-free.”

Six years later, it is now evident that the anti-smoking policies at Dublin’s three maternity hospitals are being flouted by patients, staff members and visitors. 

As is detailed above, TheJournal.ie witnesses dozens of cigarette butts on the ground within the no-smoking areas of the hospitals, along with people smoking cigarettes. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie earlier this year about the situation at Beaumont Hospital, chairperson of ASH Ireland Dr Patrick Doorley said the hospital could “maybe target information campaigns” at visitors “advising them that they should not encourage their relatives or patients to be smoking outside, indeed, discourage them”. 

“It’s hard to understand why people continue to smoke in that situation, it’s just not good behaviour, to be honest,” he said.

Support

Support is available at Dublin’s three maternity hospitals for people regarding smoking. 

A smoking cessation midwife is employed at the Rotunda who accepts referrals from pregnant women who wish to engage in a cessation programme. 

This midwife offers both face to face and phone support for pregnant women aiming to reduce or stop smoking during pregnancy. 

A spokesperson for the Coombe said: “The people who are providing your antenatal care can help you. Let them know as soon as you can that you want to stop smoking. Your family doctor, midwife, practice nurse, public health nurse or pharmacist can all offer you advice and support while you are giving up smoking.” 

At the National Maternity Hospital, patients who identify as smokers on their first visit are provided with information regarding the dangers of smoking during pregnancy. They are also directed to smoking cessation support services in their local area.  

The HSE provides support options for smokers.

People can call the HSE National Smokers Quitline freephone on 1800 201 203 . People are also free text QUIT to 50100 or email support@quit.ie. 

Further information and support is available from the HSE here

The Department of Health declined to comment on the enforcement of non-smoking areas in hospitals.

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