Zero tolerance of smoking at hospital sends the right message

Do you think people should be allowed to smoke on NHS premises?

Do you think people should be allowed to smoke on NHS premises?

Smoking is one of those rare subjects which divides people absolutely. A bit like Margaret Thatcher.

My late Sentinel columnist colleague Pete Bossley and I disagreed on both.

At every opportunity he would return to his favourite hobby-horses of bashing Maggie and defending the rights of those who liked nothing better than to light up.

Contrast that with yours truly who has spent years highlighting the fact that Mrs Thatcher did have her plus points and being slaughtered for it.

Meanwhile, I continue to nag – with varying degrees of success – family members and friends to quit smoking so that it doesn’t kill them.

I’m incredibly square. I’ve never smoked. I’ve never even tried it.

As someone who has lived with asthma all his life I struggle to breathe on my own sometimes without polluting my lungs.

My old Boys’ Brigade captain was a prolific smoker with a hacking cough and the habit killed him in the end – leaving a profound impression on 11-year-old me.

Given the fact that smoking is so bad for your health, is so expensive, makes you smell and turns your fingers a funny colour I’ve never really understood the appeal.

But each to his own, I guess – so long as smoking doesn’t affect other people, that is.

Pete Bossley was forever banging on about the fact that, in his view, smokers were being victimised and treated like second class citizens.

Believe it or not there used to be a smoking room within The Sentinel’s newsroom here at Etruria not so long ago and the decision to sacrifice it in favour of an outdoor shelter when the place was refurbished didn’t go down to well with some of my colleagues.

By the same token, there were always – and perhaps still are – those who resented smokers nipping outside every 20 minutes for a fag break while their non-smoker workmates were stuck at their desks.
After all, there’s only so much tea and coffee you can drink.

Moving the smoking area outdoors made perfect sense to me.

For one thing, it meant there wasn’t a corner of the office that I had to avoid for fear of smelling like an ash tray or needing my inhaler.

The smokers didn’t agree, of course – arguing that they shouldn’t have to freeze outside or get wet to indulge their habit.

‘It makes you more productive. Perks you up,’ one of them told me.

Whatever the arguments, outside the shelter has remained and if I look out of my window at any given time on a week day there’s usually a group of smokers huddled together.

That’s all well and good, of course, because the shelter is on the car park of a newspaper offices.

It’s a world away from the grounds of NHS buildings locally where another battle is being fought between the pro-smokers and those who make the rules.

It’s a fight the smokers seem destined to lose.

The University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) was about to drop its own blanket ban on smoking because it was being so widely ignored.

It had been granted planning permission by the city council to put up five shelters where the public could smoke – including one outside its cancer centre.

Two more hidden smoking zones would also have been created for staff – out of sight of patients.

However, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has drafted guidelines suggesting all NHS hospitals adopt a zero tolerance approach to smoking on their premises – leading to UHNS being forced to shelve its plans.

Of course, you could argue that if you’re going to ban smoking on the basis that it’s bad for you and it sends the wrong message to patients and their relatives, then you should also ban vending machines selling chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks or certain foods served on hospital premises.

The difference is, of course, that all those things – in moderation – won’t kill you and I dare say few would object to walking past people sipping from a can of pop or eating a Mars bar or a pasty while entering or leaving a cancer ward.

In contrast, many more don’t like weaving through clouds created by groups of smokers congregating outside the entrances to hospital wards.

If you’ve visited the hospital recently, you’ll know what I mean – whether it’s the maternity unit or oncology.

I can understand hospital bosses wanting a quiet life but is a pretty unedifying spectacle seeing patients standing outside in their dressing gowns or relatives chugging on a cigarette.

They would perhaps argue that smoking helps them to deal with very stressful situations. Well the rest of us get on with it so I’m sure they would cope without a fag.

Let’s face it, if it wasn’t for the tax it brings in, the Government would have banned the sale of tobacco years ago – giving what we know about its affect on people’s health.

Thank goodness for the ban on smoking in enclosed public places.

I am sure you remember only too well returning home from a pub/club/restaurant with your clothes stinking and having breathed in someone else’s cigarette smoke.

Thank goodness too that NICE is recommending this hard-line approach to smoking on NHS premises.

If smokers want to light up in their cars or their own home or in the street, then fine.

However, it seems absurd to tolerate this habit at places where NHS staff are encouraging people to quit and doctors are battling to save lives and repair the damage done by smokers to themselves and other people.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

1982: The year I realised there was life beyond Sneyd Green…

Let’s turn back the clock 30 years. Yours truly was tubby, aged 10, and at infant school.

I was still happily playing with a tin of toy soldiers and nipping over the railings for a game of footie on the high school playing fields of a weekend (goalkeeper, obviously, because this asthmatic didn’t do much running about).

Then things changed. This was the year I looked beyond Sneyd Green and started to take notice of, well… other stuff.

I think this was because 1982 was a momentous year – for all sorts of reasons.

Indeed, I’m convinced it was the events of those 12 months which switched me on to current affairs.

No, I’m not talking about the arrival of the BMX or the ZX Spectrum home computer – I had neither.

Nor did I go in for Deely Boppers, ra-ra skirts or leg warmers – which all made their bow in ’82.

I’m not talking about the launch of Channel 4 with its first edition of Countdown, either.

No, what struck me when I watched the evening news was the crushing misery of real life.

Unemployment hit three million for the first time since the Thirties and I learned what a dole queue was.

Of course, there was no bigger story than the Falklands Conflict – which unfolded before our eyes on television from April to June.

For a starters, my mum suggested we stop buying Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies because of their country of origin. She only suggested it, mind.

As a 10-year-old I recall being worried as Maggie’s Task Force sailed off but I didn’t really know why.

The Falklands Conflict was the first ‘war’ which us Brits witnessed via nightly updates on the TV news.

For anyone who saw them, even a youngster like me, there are certain names and images which will be seared into your mind.

Mirage fighter planes, Exocet missiles, Harrier jump jets, Goose Green, Mount Tumbledown, the blazing Sir Galahad, the sinking General Belgrano.

For the 74-day duration of the conflict pictures were beamed into our living rooms every teatime – exposing for the first time the full horrors of war to us back home.

In the end, we won, but the cost was steep: 255 British military personnel, almost 650 Argentine military personnel and a handful of Falkland Islanders died.

Last year I met Simon Weston OBE – the remarkable survivor of that fire on the Sir Galahad – at a theme park in Cornwall of all places. He remains an inspiration.

Television also provided other vivid memories of that year for me.

In October I was one of more than 120 pupils at Holden Lane First and Middle who huddled around the school’s only beast of a TV and watched as King Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose was raised from the murky depths of The Solent.

This was history at its most exciting and I was hooked for life.

I also watched virtually every game of the World Cup in Spain and very nearly completed the Panini Sticker album for the tournament – eventually giving up on a couple of Hungarian midfielders.

It was a year to be Italian and I recall the Boys’ Brigade lads playing football on the grass up at Wesley Hall Methodist church (trees for goalposts) all wanting to be Paolo Rossi.

1982 was also a year of contrasting royal stories. There was joy for the House of Windsor when Diana, Princess of Wales, gave birth to her son and future heir to the throne Prince William in June.

But a month later I remember being horrified that the Queen had spent 10 minutes chatting to intruder Michael Fagan when she woke up to find him sitting on the end of her bed.

Ten-year-old me was genuinely concerned about Her Majesty’s safety for several days after that.

Thirty years later and our Liz is approaching her Diamond Jubilee so I guess I needn’t have worried.

Happy anniversary, your Majesty.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Thanks Mr Harrison, I won’t forget you


When you are growing up you come across people who leave a lasting impression on you. They help to shape who you are and how you think.

Roy Harrison, who died this week at the age of 84, was just such a man in my life.

Mr Harrison, as I always refer to him, was a colossal figure locally who leaves a proud legacy.

I can’t tell you about Roy the family man, Roy the scientist or Roy the man who was instrumental in raising the funds to build Wesley Hall Methodist Church in Sneyd Green.

However, I can tell you a little about Mr Harrison – the strict but kindly man who was a father figure to many young people like myself who attended that church.

I recall the numerous shows and fund-raising fayres which he seemed to organise almost single-handedly.

I remember him as the extremely dedicated captain of the 14th (North Staffs) Company of the Boys’ Brigade.

I remember his voice and his valiant attempts to teach me and the other lads a bit of drill. I never did nail that ‘about turn’.

I remember him leading our little band through the streets of Sneyd Green on a Sunday morning with yours truly bashing away on a side drum.

I recall his pride when I represented the 14th Company in the Bible Quiz and didn’t get a single answer wrong.

I remember Mr Harrison the sportsman, the choreographer and the musician.

Never judgmental, always supportive, he was an incredibly inspirational man.

He was one of those rare breed of genuinely driven, community-spirited individuals who enrich the lives of others through their endeavours.

Thanks, Mr Harrison. I won’t forget you.

Discipline and structure play key role in youngsters’ lives

My best friend’s dad has a theory that everything started to go downhill for Britain when we did away with National Service.

It’s an argument which I’ve heard older people put forward many times when seeking a scapegoat for society’s ills.

I wasn’t around in 1960 but I do think it is fair to say that a general lack of discipline and focus for young people is to blame for much of the crime and anti-social behaviour which we suffer nowadays.

As one of the tamest teenagers who ever lived I was never likely to rebel for fear of upsetting my mum or getting a clip round the ear-hole from my dad.

My idea of living on the edge was playing ‘kerby’ with a Striker football on a busy road.
Alcohol? I soon discovered I couldn’t ‘take my ale’ as real men in the Potteries like to say.

Drugs? No way. I was terrified. I never touched them. Although I do recall driving down the D-road one evening on the way to a friend’s 18th birthday party with my yellow Metro literally reeking of cannabis and praying the police didn’t pull me over.

Smoking? Do me a favour. Asthmatics like me have trouble breathing at the best of times. Why would I want to be coughing my guts up every morning and end up with breath that smells like an ashtray?

However, all teenagers are not like me which is why, for years now, we have listened to young people and ‘yoof’ workers trotting out platitudes by way of an explanation for anti-social behaviour.

Bus shelter windows smashed again? Flowers dead-headed? Branches torn from trees? A lit firework stuck through your letterbox? Empty cans of special brew littering your street?

Well that’ll be because “there’s nothing for the young people to do around here”.

Poor lambs. I honestly don’t remember ever being so bored that I resorted to acting like a yob.

Have they never heard of books? Or football? Or thought of joining the Scouts?

I say scouting because yesterday I read the heart-warming story of Karen Cooper who has just collected Guiding’s highest honour – the Queen’s Award.

Karen, aged 26, became a Brownie at seven and has since risen to become the leader of her own unit of 27 youngsters in Hanley.

Having been a member of the 14th North Staffs branch of the Boys’ Brigade for about eight years, Karen’s story touched a chord with me.

It made me realise that, in addition to being a dull kid, perhaps there was more to my boring behaviour than simple respect for my parents and the neighbourhood in which I was growing up.

A methodist church may not sound like the height of excitement for your average adolescent male.

But for several years my pursuit of badges for the likes of camping, learning to sew and learning to cook was enough to keep me focused on Monday nights.

I was taught how to march, salute, play the side drum – and I got to wear a uniform.

Under the kind stewardship of captain Roy Harrison many a lad who would otherwise perhaps have strayed into trouble learned a little discipline and a little about himself.

Such organisations – the Scouts, Guides, Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades provide a wonderful outlet for all that youthful exuberance while teaching valuable life skills.

They promote teamwork, encourage outdoor pursuits so frowned upon in this mollycoddled age and, most important of all, instil a sense of respect and order into the minds of young people.

That’s why I was so keen for my five-year-old daughter to join Rainbows (basically the junior section of the Brownies or Girl Guides).

I thought she might enjoy it – the learning and the sense of achievement. In the first few weeks she’s held a large spider and a snake, made an Italian flag, tasted foods from different countries and tried her hand at various crafts.

She loves the sense of belonging, the incentives to learn – and getting to wear a uniform.

Just like her dad did 25 years ago.

I’m not convinced National Service would rescue the UK but I’m damn sure a little discipline and structure would do the youth of today no harm whatsoever.

Role models like Karen Cooper are living proof of that.

It’s no wonder children have little faith in the church

Take a pew (if you’ll pardon the pun), – it’s time for some uncomfortable truths about the church in 2010.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that these days I only set foot in the house of God for Christenings, weddings and funerals – or at Christmas time.

I am, I suppose, a lapsed Methodist. That doesn’t mean I don’t pray or even that I don’t believe – I just choose not to worship regularly in the company of others.

For the record, I attended church from the age of five until I was 14.

I sat through years of Sunday school, joined the Boys’ Brigade and paraded the streets of Sneyd Green banging a side drum.

I performed in annual stage shows, was part of the church Queen’s retinue (images of my frilly white shirt still haunt me) and always helped out at the fêtes at Wesley Hall Methodist Church.

I eventually stopped going because I was bored and because, frankly, there were more interesting things to do on a Sunday morning.

On the evidence of last Sunday I did the right thing.

We rolled up at a United Reformed Church to witness our daughter’s first parade as a member of the Rainbows.

For the uninitiated, the Rainbows is basically the junior section of the Brownies or Girl Guides.

Our Lois is five and she and her mate Grace were resplendent in their red Rainbows jogging bottoms, red tracksuit tops and red baseball caps.

They trooped into church along with other Rainbows, Brownies and members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades.

Lois was excited. She was thrilled to wear her new kit, to be with her new pals and to be part of a group activity.

A little later a rather less enthusiastic Lois trudged out of the church doubtless wondering where the last hour of her life had gone.

I knew exactly how she felt because I vividly remember fidgeting my way through countless services where, try as they might, the ministers spectacularly failed to engage with their flock.

The man who led Sunday’s service for Lois was no exception.

He seemed perfectly nice and shook my hand as we entered and left the church.

However, his oratory was exceedingly dull and the moment when he produced two wholemeal baps and two tins of tuna as he told the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 was surreal to say the least.

I’m not saying the service was boring but little ’un (Mina), who is three and a half, fell asleep on her mum’s lap during the sermon.

She snored so loudly that it drew disapproving glances from half a dozen parishioners.

I think they were just annoyed that it was the most interesting thing that had happened during the entire service.

Unless, of course, you include the video presentation by a charity working to relieve the suffering in Haiti. The one where there was no sound and we had to lip-read.

As for the hymns, well, where to start?

I remember a fair few hymns off by heart but only knew the first of four tunes we had to endure.

It was that old favourite – Praise My Soul The King of Heaven – the words to which were written by H F Lyte in the early 19th Century.

This is precisely the period many churches still appear to be stuck in.

Let’s face it, many hymns – unless you include carols or those of the happy-clappy new variety – are dull as dishwater.

Worse than that, they are a crime against music – completely devoid of any proper rhythm.

So much so that you end up extending words beyond all recognition to keep pace with the turgid organ music.

No doubt there are churches out there with vibrant congregations and lucky enough to boast preachers with real presence.

However, I dare say they are in the minority which explains why so few people actually attend church regularly in the UK.

More worryingly, the majority of those are in their twilight years and go to church out of habit, because they are seeking companionship or are hedging their bets on an afterlife.

I dearly wish it wasn’t so. I honestly believe that the church has an important spiritual role to play in today’s fractured society.

Indeed, I’m extremely grateful for the church’s role in my upbringing and I’ll certainly give my children the chance to go to Sunday school – if they enjoy it and feel they are getting something out of it.

However, unless churches adapt and find ways to engage with younger generations, I fear the number of people through their doors will continue to dwindle.