SMOKERS and non-smokers united to protest against the Royal Bolton Hospital’s plan to ban lighting up.

Around 20 hospital workers brandished placards outside the main entrance yesterday while passing cars, trucks and ambulances beeped their horns in support.

The protest was organised by members of Staffside, a confederation of workers’ unions, who say the hospital is taking away people’s choice.

At the moment, staff, patients and visitors can smoke in designated shelters around the hospital grounds, but these will be removed from July 1.

Ward clerk Joyce Robinson, who is vice chairman of Unison in Bolton, said: “They are taking our choice away from us. We come here to do a day’s work — it’s not a dictatorship.

“All we’re asking for is a couple of shelters out of site of the public, and they have turned us down.”

Security officer Andrew Charkewycz, a non-smoker, said: “It’s a Draconian sanction. If you take all the smoking shelters away, where will the public go? Outside in the doorways — and then we’ll be told to go and tell them to stop.

“What if you’ve lost a child or a relative? They’re just going to tell you to shove off.”

But one Unison member said he was disgusted with his union. He said: “To organise a protest about this just stinks. Surely they have more important things to campaign for, such as people’s livelihoods?”

Hospital communication director Heather Edwards said support would be offered to staff, patients and visitors to help them quit smoking.

She said: “It is well known that smoking has harmful effects on individuals and others.

“As a health-promoting hospital we believe we need to take a lead in promoting healthier lifestyles and this is why we are aiming to ban smoking from the site, as a number of other hospitals have done.

“We think it would be wrong to make staff an exception and it will be a policy of the Trust that they must follow. We offer strong support to staff as well as to patients and visitors to stop smoking and indeed many staff have taken up this offer.”