THE abolition of the outdoor smoking area at the Midlands Hospital in Portlaoise is “a step too far”, according to Cllr Caroline Dwane, who has called on the HSE to reopen the area within the grounds of the hospital to protect patient safety.
The councillor’s remarks came at last week’s meeting of Portlaoise Town Council, when she highlighted the problem of patients out smoking on public roads in the wake of the smoking ban.
“I’m not arguing for a return to the days of smoking in the workplace, but while it was with the best intentions they’ve created an awful mess,” she said. “There are patients out on the Block Road and the Dublin Road smoking, it’s a pathetic sight.”
“I saw a man in a wheelchair on the Dublin Road having a cigarette,” Cllr Dwane continued. “On the grounds of the hospital you’ll see people smoking in different places, I even saw two girls standing over the ‘smoke free zone’ sign, blowing smoke into the air.”
Cllr Dwane pointed out the health concerns of having patients on the road and asked who was responsible for them once they are off hospital property. She said that the staff have claimed they have to go out onto the roads to get patients and they also have to police the hospital and tell people not to smoke.
“If a patient falls, what happens?” she asked. “I certainly hope we don’t have to call an ambulance to come from Tullamore to lift them.”
Cllr Alan Hand said that one day as he was driving along the Dublin Road he saw a crowd gathered at the hospital gates.
“I thought it was a protest or an industrial action, but then I got close and saw the pyjammas and dressing gowns,” he said, adding that it looks bad to people who are coming into the town for business.
Cllr Matthew Keegan said that rather than reopen the old smoking area he would prefer to see an alternative spot chosen, somewhere “out of sight and out of mind”. Cllr Jerry Lodge disagreed, saying that the councillors were leaders in the community and as smoking is bad for your health the hospital were right to ban it within the grounds.
“Why should the hospital facilitate it?” he asked. “Someone could say, ‘I want a little drink’ so we should put in a drinking area too.”
“Maybe people should give up for a couple of days in hospital?” suggested Cllr Kathleen O’Brien.
Cllr Dwane replied that vulnerable people staying in hospital are not going to give up smoking for a couple of days.
“I’m an ex-smoker, I gave up 13 years ago and it was one of the best decisions I ever made, but patients are out on the road, there’s a problem there whether we like it or not,” she said. “The complaints I got weren’t from smokers, it was people complaining about patients being on the road.”