HOSPITAL bosses have made a dramatic U-turn — and will NOT build smoking shelters at the Royal Bolton.

The decision was announced by Dr Jackie Bene, medical director at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, at the Board of Directors meeting yesterday (THUR).

It comes following weeks of pressure from council chiefs and outraged people over the hospital’s decision to reinstate the shelters following a public vote.

Dr Bene said the reverse decision was made in order for the trust to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with public health — despite 1,629 people voting in favour of the shelters in a poll held last month.

Dr Bene told the board: ”I think it’s fair to say there has been an awful lot of interest in the smoking shelters. You will be aware of the public vote and it was quite an even split.

“There was significant concern in both camps and there was a subsequent ballot calling for us to overturn the decision.

“We have just undertaken the exercise but having reflected on that and heard a lot of views, we feel perhaps we need to look at this in a different way and stand shoulder to shoulder with our public health colleagues.”

After the meeting, Dr Bene confirmed the shelters would not be built as a smoking facilities but would be put to another use within the hospital site.

The trust came under further fire when it emerged the three shelters costing £1,200 each had been purchased on April 11 — almost a month before it went to public consultation.

But the trust has said the latest decision was made based on the 1,580 people who voted against them — just 49 less votes than those in favour.

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Bene said: “We felt we could not ignore the other people who voted against it because it was so close.

“The public have had their say and it left us with a concern about such a strong opposition. But the decision does lie with the trust board.”

The decision has been welcomed by Town Hall bosses.

Cllr Sufrana Bashir-Ismail, cabinet member for public health said: “We are grateful they have listened to concerns raised.

“As a council with responsibilities for promoting healthier lifestyles we were concerned the decision would send out the wrong message and felt the hospital could instead offer advice and support on stopping smoking.

“In addition, the decision to rebuild the shelters came at a time when smoking-related deaths in Bolton were higher than the national and regional averages, and a lot of work is being carried out in the borough to help tackle this issue.”

Cllr Andy Morgan, who sits on Bolton Council's health scrutiny, said the shelters should never have gone to a public vote.

He added: “It’s the right decision but it should never have been an option in the first place because of public health.

“I also find it amazing that they bought the shelters before any consultation had taken place.

“We have all got a part to play in public health and the hospital is no different. This has been a complete and utter waste of every body’s time and resources.

“Smoking is not allowed on site and the key is to enforce the ban.”

Health experts have also welcomed the decision.

Dr Brian Bradley, consultant respiratory physician at the Royal Bolton Hospital, said: ”I am relieved the hospital has taken this stance. We are a health care provider and as an organisation it is our job to treat patients and help them adopt a lifestyle that is condusive to good health.

“There are many places where smoking is not permitted and I think hospitals should be the same.

“I understand people are upset by individuals smoking by the door but it is our job to support people stop smoking, rather than providing a facility to do so.”

The shelters may be used over the ‘pay and display’ machines in the car parks.

Divided Opinion

THE controversial smoking shelters have divided opinion among health experts, patients and councillors for the past two months.

And that was before it emerged the Royal Bolton Hospital Trust had spent thousands on the shelters two months before the decision went to public vote.

The purchase of three shelters, costing £1,200 each on April 11, by the trust was flagged up at a meeting of Bolton’s full council last week.

But hospital bosses had said if the public had voted no, the shelters would have been used for another purpose, elsewhere on site.

In a close run poll, 1,629 people voted in favour of the shelters — just 49 more than those against.

Before that, debate had been rife among hospital staff, patients and visitors about whether the shelters should be reinstalled.

Although smoking in the hospital grounds is prohibited, it is virtually impossible to enforce, as it is not underpinned by the law.

Concerns had been growing as visitors and patients, some on drips and in wheelchairs, were smoking near the entrance, to the annoyance of non-smokers visiting the building.

Even some non-smokers said the shelters were necessary to prevent clouds of smoke forming at the entrance.

But many health professionals say reinstating hospital shelters would be a waste of the trust’s limited resources, as well as an unofficial endorsement of smoking.

In the Bolton News online poll, 1,522 people voted for the reintroduction of smoking shelters and 1,327 voted against.

Up until July 2009, the Royal Bolton Hospital had six smoking shelters to cater for those who wanted a cigarette.