ST GEORGE’S Healthcare NHS Trust and its three hospitals are to become smoke-free by the end of the year, it has been announced.

Smoking was banned from hospital buildings in 2003 but the scheme will now be extended to cover outside spaces too.

The new ban will come into force on New Year’s Eve.

The move by St George’s to ban smoking completely from its site follows the 2005 Public Health White Paper ‘Choosing Health’, which declared that all NHS premises would become smoke-free by 2006.

Every hospital in London has promised to ban smoking from its buildings and grounds by December 2005.

Doctors at St George’s say the ban is being extended to provide additional protection for non-smokers against the risks associated with passive smoking and to ‘create an environment that is more suited to helping people give up smoking.’

Dr Paul Heath leads the hospital’s smoking cessation group:

“Most people understand why we need to have a ban on smoking inside our buildings,” says Dr Heath. “Smoking is a major fire risk and the effects of passive smoking are well documented and researched.

“But the reasons why we want people to stop smoking the moment they step into our grounds are perhaps harder to grasp, especially as the risks associated with passive smoking are not as great outdoors.

“But we’re a hospital that cares very much for the welfare and wellbeing of its patients and its staff and, quite simply, we want to encourage people not to smoke and help them lead healthier lives.”

Around 111,000 people die every year from smoking or passive smoking, and the NHS as a whole spends more than ?400m a year treating patients suffering from smoking-related diseases.

The ban has received the backing of the hospital?s patient forum.

“We welcome this initiative,” says the forum’s spokeswoman, Susanna Kawalek. “It is essential that patients are given as much encouragement as possible to stop smoking.

“We realise it may be a decision that is uncomfortable for some people but it is an initiative that is in everyone?s best interests.”

As part of the scheme, the hospital plans to offer free counselling to patients and staff who want to stop smoking.

For more information about how to give up smoking, call the Wandsworth Stop Smoking Service on 0800 389 7921.