NHS Highland is planning to ensure all its hospital grounds are smoke-free zones by the end of March – almost seven years later than planned.
The smoke-free policy, was first introduced in January 1, 2008, but the health board has had difficulty getting all staff, patients and visitors to comply, especially in the grounds of Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
But it is now planning to implement a total smoking ban in February of next year.
At Raigmore, the ban will be imposed on February 2 and posters are being displayed around the hospital and grounds counting down the days.
Yesterday there were 47 days to go.
Consultant breast surgeon, Nick Abbott, said: “Although this may prove a challenging policy for some to abide by, the long-term health benefits for staff, patients and visitors justify this approach.
“Support will be available for anyone who finds this difficult, particularly heavy smokers admitted as an emergency.”
Linda Kirkland, interim director of operations for Raigmore, said it would be a challenge.
She said: “We know that we will have to manage some difficult scenarios, such as upset patients and relatives who have just been given bad news, but just because it’s hard it doesn’t mean that it’s not the right thing to do.”
During November, 100 people were surveyed in Inverness with the “vast majority” supporting the ban.
An NHS Highland spokeswoman said it would be enforced by security and other staff, who would remind those smoking of the smoke-free policy and the reasons why it is in place.
Simon Clark, of the pro smoking group Forest, described the idea that smokers were polluting the atmosphere by lighting up outside as “laughable”.
He said: “I can understand hospitals not wanting people to smoke around the entrance, but banning smoking in the grounds is petty and vindictive.”
He added that hospitals could be stressful places for patients, visitors and staff and said prohibiting smokers from lighting up outside could cause even greater anxiety.
But Sheila Duffy, who is the chief executive of health charity ASH Scotland, welcomed the move saying: “The policy of smoke-free hospital grounds sends a message that tobacco is an enemy of good health.”