SMOKING may be banned in the grounds of both of Colchester’s hospitals, as well as in the buildings themselves.

At present, patients, staff and visitors to Colchester General Hospital and Essex County Hospital are allowed to smoke in designated areas in the grounds.

If Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust goes ahead with the ban, smokers will have to go completely off-site before they can light up.

The trust has launched a survey on its proposals today – National No Smoking Day.

Simon Clark, from pro-smoking group, Forest,objected to the move, claiming hospitals were stressful environments where some staff, patients and visitors needed a smoke to get them through the day.

He added: “It’s worrying when a so-called caring establishment chooses to stop people smoking anywhere in its grounds.

“People smoking in the open air are not causing anyone inconvenience – especially if they are not gathering round the entrance. To force people to walk off grounds and stand by a main road to smoke seems the complete opposite of what the NHS should stand for.”

However, Dr Gordon Coutts, the trust’s chief executive, defended the move and urged staff, patients and visitors to take part in its survey.

He said: “As a health organisation, we are enthusiastic about promoting good health.

“Smoking is Britain’s single biggest preventable cause of ill-health and early death, and there is now incontrovertible evidence second-hand smoke can harm the health of non-smokers.

“My personal view is it would be enormously helpful if we had a strong mandate to go ahead and make the hospitals smoke-free.”

If the ban comes in, smokers will have to walk almost 300 yards from Colchester General Hospital’s main entrance on to Turner Road to light up.

John Atkins, 73, an ex-smoker who lives near the hospital in Kingswood Road, said: “I think it makes sense to increase the number of places where smoking is banned.

“If they need to ban it in the grounds entirely is another issue. However, I can’t see people congregating in Turner Road to smoke. It’s quite a long walk from the wards.”

The survey can be filled at www.colchesterhospital.nhs. uk until the end of March.

Printed copies of the questionnaire can also be picked up today at three No Smoking Day stands at Colchester General Hospital – at the main entrance, and Constable and Gainsborough wings, until 4pm. There will also be a stand in the main outpatients’ department at Essex County Hospital. All four will offer advice on quitting.

Other NHS trusts have tried such bans, but found them hard to enforce, since they are not backed by the law. At present, the only legal sanction is a possible £50 on-the-spot littering fine for smokers who drop cigarette butts.

However, other trusts are lobbying Parliament to extend anti-smoking laws to cover hospital grounds.