THE public have spoken — and voted for smoking shelters to be rebuilt at the Royal Bolton Hospital.

Hospital bosses decided to give staff, patients and visitors the final say on whether smoking shelters should be provided by the hospital.

In a close-run poll, people who wanted the smoking shelters won with 1,629 votes — just 49 more than those against the proposals.

The poll has sparked a fierce debate among smokers and non-smokers, as well as hospital staff and visitors.

Work on three new shelters will start this week, which will cost about £1,200 each.

There will be a shelter between the main entrance to the hospital and A&E, another close to the Princess Anne Maternity Unit entrance and another for staff at the back of the main hospital building.

Posters to promote quitting smoking will be also put in the shelters.

But those against the decision say they will send out the wrong message to smokers on a site that should be smoke-free.

Dr Brian Bradley, consultant respiratory physician at the Royal Bolton Hospital, said he was disappointed with the result.

He added: “I have not changed my opinion on the matter. I still think the hospital should not be providing people with places to smoke.

“I’m a chest physician and every day I treat patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease caused by smoking. Of course the choice to smoke or not is certainly theirs but that doesn’t mean we have to provide places to smoke.

“I would rather use the money to promote a healthier lifestyle to stop people smoking and help them with their addiction. I am very disappointed with the result.”

Yet those who voted in favour say the shelters will move smokers away from the entrances to hospital buildings and stop people causing hazards by smoking in stairwells.

Liz Hurst, who works on the front reception desk, said she was “relieved” the shelters were being reinstated.

Mrs Hurst, aged 28 from Tonge Moor, added: “I voted in favour of them because of the amount of people who complain about the lack of facilities. It’s mainly relatives of patients who complain but staff smoke too and at the end of the day, it’s their choice.

“They should never have taken the old ones away in the first place. I don’t smoke myself but I am relieved they’re being rebuilt because we’re the first ones people complain to.” 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 entrances, to the annoyance of non-smokers visiting or attending the building. In The Bolton News online poll, 1,522 people voted for the reintroduction of smoking shelters and 1,327 voted against.

The Bolton News also received 89 coupons with 39 saying Yes and 50 saying No. The Royal Bolton Hospital online poll received 62 votes in favour and 200 against the shelters, plus six coupons For and three Against.

Jon Scott, chief operating officer at the Royal Bolton Hospital, said: “We knew that this issue would be controversial but the debate has been a good way of airing all the different views.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate and voted. I promised that we would abide by the result of the vote and so we will be putting up three shelters.

“This doesn’t mean we condone smoking — it means that smokers will be directed away from the entrances so that other people do not have to go through the smoke.”

The new shelters are expected to be completed in three weeks.

In the meantime, the hospital will talk to staff and union representatives about changes needed to the current smoking policy, which bans smoking anywhere on the site.