The HSE West was accused of operating double standards regarding the smoking ban this week after it emerged that there was an ashtray located outside on a window sill at Merlin Park Hospital. This is despite the fact that the public hospital is designated a smoke-free facility.
The tobacco free policy means people are not allowed smoke anywhere on the hospital grounds and it applies to staff, patients, visitors, contractors and anyone who enters the hospital buildings or grounds.
Highlighting the ashtray incident at a meeting of the health authority’s regional health forum this week Ballinasloe county councillor Tim Broderick warned the HSE that “it can’t sing out of both sides of its mouth”.
He urged forum members attending the meeting at Merlin Park Hospital to look outside the window [of the room in which the forum meeting was being held] where they would see “quite a large ashtray”.
His comments came following a discussion on a written question he had submitted to the HSE West regarding the number of smoking inspectors in the area.
In reply Gerry O’Neill, the HSE West’s regional director for performance and integration with the HSE West, promised that the health authority will address the ashtray issue and “make it more difficult” for the policy flouting smokers.
He said it was “a constant battle” with the public and assured Cllr Broderick that the ashtray would be removed.
In a written reply to the Kilconnell county councillor’s question Maurice Mulcahy of the HSE’s environmental health office, stated that the majority of tobacco control inspections are carried out alongside food control inspections to ensure value for money. There is not a standard tobacco control inspection frequency for such inspections.
He outlined while many of the 122 environmental health officers employed in the HSE carry out inspections under the Public Health (Tobacco) Acts about eight are involved in this area. There were 6,489 smoke-free inspections carried out last year compared with 7,170 in 2011.
Mr Mulcahy pointed out that the frequency of tobacco control inspections is determined by a number of factors. Top priorities include places which are the subject of public complaints, hospitality premises with smoking shelters, facilities which sell tobacco products to minors, places which failed to comply with previous advice or written notices or did not register under Section 37 of the Public Health (Tobacco) Acts.