Queen Elizabeth Hospital
The hospital has prominent signs discouraging smoking

Staff at Queen Elizabeth Hospital are wary of challenging people who smoke outside the hospital entrance, the hospital’s boss has admitted.

Ben Travis, the chief executive of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, told a panel of Greenwich councillors on Thursday that staff had reported “difficult experiences” when challenging smokers, who stand outside the entrance, which is by the windows of the hospital’s maternity unit. The trust would be giving staff advice in how to challenge smokers, suess he added, pointing out that the trust could not afford to station a security guard outside the entrance all the time.

Travis said the hospital was considering smoke detectors and even considering reintroducing smoking shelters – even though smoking is banned on NHS sites.

The issue was raised in the meeting after a member of the public contacted the health scrutiny panel. The meeting also heard that the hospital had been under “phenomenal” pressure for the first ten weekdays of 2020.

“It’s a perennial battle,” he said. “We are going to be refreshing our communications to try to build some confidence in our staff. We’ve had a number of staff who have challenged smokers and found the response quite difficult.

“We’re looking to give advice around how to have that conversation, and suggest people buddy up so they can have that conversation in pairs. A number of our staff feel quite reluctant to challenge, given some of the hostility that have encountered from members of the public.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital smokers
Smokers are a common sight outside the hospital entrance

“We thought it might be nice to have – with the support of esteemed colleagues in the room – some sort of community event. Because this is a community issue rather than a hospital issue, people who are living locally choosing to do this outside a hospital.

“We do have security who do challenge people, but given our resources, we can’t have a security guard outside the entrance all the time.”

The health scrutiny committee chair, Mark James, said: “It’s not just the impression you get – when you walk in you’re faced with it – it’s also by the maternity unit.”

Travis said: “We’re looking at smoke detectors, so when they done on you’d get a sign saying ‘please stop smoking in this area’. We are even considering – and I know this sounds counterintuitive – reintroducing smoking shelters but further away from the premises. We could be working with the council on the edge of the site.”

The council’s health cabinet member Averil Lekau said she would be happy to work with the trust on measures to stop smoking. “It is an issue that’s affecting a lot of people,” she said.

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