Smokers lighting up at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, are set to be given more than just a ticking off from the hospital’s Smoke Free Officer.
Barry Butler-Huish has been the Smoke Free Environment Officer at the hospital for the past two years, patrolling the grounds speaking to patients, visitors and staff and asking them to stub out their cigarettes and move off the hospital grounds if they want to smoke.
And now he is set to play a major role in helping smokers to give up the habit with Barry now handing out advice on how to access support to stop smoking and referring those who want to stop directly to the NHS Wales Help Me Quit service.
He admits that although smoking has reduced, it is still a problem at the Royal Gwent, despite there being ‘No Smoking’ signs displayed prominently across the site.
“First thing in the morning it’s usually the patients who are out smoking. Later on it’s the visitors. Visiting hours have become longer, with some wards open to visitors from 9am and this has increased smoking on site. There are signs everywhere on the hospital site, but in a setting like this people have other things on their mind and often they don’t notice.”
Challenging some smokers is not a job for the faint hearted and there’s no room for the ‘fear factor’ says Barry, who has previously worked as part of the Royal Gwent Hospital’s Security Team.
But it is having a big heart, not big muscles that makes Barry the right man for the job. Although his job is to enforce the rules, he says he often finds himself acting as a confidante for those he meets on his daily patrols.
“I often feel like a counsellor because people tell me what they are going through and that’s an important part of this role. Generally, people are very open – it doesn’t take long to find out what is going on in their lives.
“I treat everybody on the hospital site as a vulnerable person. Everybody reacts to things differently. Some are very brave and others fall apart. In this role you have to have empathy with the situations people are facing.”
Although the stress of being a patient in hospital or of visiting a sick loved one is a big factor behind the numbers of those smoking at the Royal Gwent, boredom also play a part, says Barry, with many patients nipping out for a cigarette simply to get a change of scene.
He says that the majority of smokers, are apologetic and put their cigarettes out when he approaches them. There are others however, who refuse to comply:
“There’s no one size fits all approach. I tailor how I approach people according to their manner. In most cases they are standing next to a sign anyway. Usually, people apologise and put out their cigarette straight away. But there are always hard-core people who are not going to stop no matter what intervention you offer them.”
Barry patrols the whole site but varies his route and timing every day to ensure that regular patients and visitors can’t predict when he’s going to turn up: “It’s best to keep people on the back foot. They never know when you’re going to appear, so they are less likely to become complacent.”
Next summer when the Public Health (Wales) Act comes into force, smoking will be banned by law across the hospital site with those that do smoke subject to a fine if they refuse to move off site to smoke.
Barry is keen however for this to be the last resort and for all smokers to be offered help to stop smoking within the hospital setting or by being referred to stop smoking support in the community via the Help Me Quit service. He will be working alongside staff from many departments across the hospital, to achieve this and to provide a clean and smoke free environment for patients and the people who care for them.
“Lots of people simply need help to stop smoking. But they don’t know where to turn and they don’t realise that there is free help available. My role is being expanded so that I’ll be giving that advice either during my patrols or from a pop-up stand in the entrance to the hospital. I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to receive help to stop smoking – and speaking to myself and other staff could be their first step towards getting there.
Suzanne Cass, CEO of the tobacco control campaign group, ASH Wales, said she welcomes the news that Barry’s role is to be expanded:
“Barry is in a great position to start conversations with smokers about giving up. It’s crucially important to protect hospital staff, visitors and patients from the harms of second-hand smoke and to de-normalise this activity within the hospital environment.”
If you are a smoker who would like support to give up, contact Help Me Quit on 0800 085 2219, visit helpmequit.wales or text HMQ to 80818.