SMOKERS in the grounds of Gwent’s largest hospitals can now expect to be asked by specialist staff to indulge their habits offsite, in a drive to enforce a no- smoking policy.

Since February, Lisa Rowley and Matthew Phillips have pounded a regular beat at the Royal Gwent and Nevill Hall Hospitals, seeking out smokers – patients, relatives and staff – who are ignoring Aneurin Bevan Health Board’s two-year- old ban on smoking in hospital grounds.

But their roles as smoke-free officers, believed to be unique in England and Wales, are about much more than banishing the ignorant beyond the hospitals’ boundaries.

They also incorporate an educational element into their work, and are able to accompany those patients who are willing, and who have indicated a wish to try to quit, back to their wards, and can inform ward staff so that cessation therapy can be considered.

The duo have adopted a pastoral approach that they believe is proving effective in their exchanges with smokers.

“People can be distressed and unhappy in hospital situations, whether patients or relatives, and it can be difficult to ask some people to go off-site,” said Mrs Rowley.

“It is about talking to people, getting a bond going, explaining what the policy is, why it is there, and the majority are fine with it.

“The message is not so much that you cannot smoke, it is about where you smoke.”

Despite the ban being introduced in March 2012, smoking on hospital sites in Gwent remains an issue, but there are indications that things are beginning to change.

Staff have reported a reduction in discarded cigarette butts at traditional smoking sites at the hospitals, and Mrs Rowley said that positive feedback is coming in.

“It’s taken a while to spread the word but I’ve had senior staff at Nevill Hall telling me that we’re doing a brilliant job, and it’s good to hear that other hospital staff are buying into the idea.”