An NHS hospital is refusing to ban smoking on its premises because it believes doing so would put patients in danger of speeding vehicles.
The bosses of Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals in Dorset are defending their use of designated smoking areas despite pressure from Government health officials.
The trust said it had previously tried a ban of smoking on its grounds, but that this had only forced smokers dangerously close to the adjacent main road where cars and lorries frequently travel at 50 mph.
If we ban smoking on our grounds altogether it pushes patients and visitors to smoke close to the main roads
Richard Renaut, Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Last week Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie wrote to all NHS trusts urging them to impose total bans on their premises, despite the fact around one quarter of patients smoke.
Royal Bournemouth’s stance has provoked criticism from anti smoking groups, who have pointed out that tobacco causes 50 times more deaths each year than road accidents.
But the trust’s chief operating officer, Richard Renaut, said: “We currently have a number of designated smoking areas across the Trust.
“If we ban smoking on our grounds altogether, as we have tried, it pushes staff, patients and visitors to smoke close to the main roads around the hospital which compromises their personal safety, especially at night.”
Nearby Poole hospital is also allowing smokers to continue lighting up on their premises in designated shelters “away from the main hospital buildings”.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which sets guidance for clinical practice, states that hospital premises, including the grounds, should remain smoke-free.
An article in the British Medical Journal last month argued that allowing patients to smoke was a form of “collusion” and “misguided sympathy” on the part of hospital staff.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the campaign group ASH, said: "Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable premature death in Britain killing nearly 100,000 people a year compared to less than 2,000 who die from road traffic accidents.
“The single most important change that smokers can make to improve their health is quit - Bournemouth should be doing more to support quitting not facilitating smoking."
Mr Renaut said his trust took proactive measures to persuade smokers to give up their habit.