SMOKING shelters could be built in the grounds of Southend Hospital.

New chief executive Jacqueline Totterdell believes trying to enforce the strict no-smoking policy was futile – and it was not “the right time” to encourage smokers to quit their habits when they came for treatment.

But her suggestion has been questioned by former smokers, who claimed it would send out the wrong message.

John Pember, 46, of Stornoway Road, Southend, gave up smoking four years ago after receiving help from the NHS’s Stop Smoking campaign.

He said: “Smoking shelters encourage people to smoke. That’s the simple fact of it.

“If you’re a smoker, the only thing that is going to stop you feeding that addiction is if it’s made tougher for you. If you have to walk to the edge of the hospital grounds or if it’s wet and raining outside, you might think twice.

“You won’t if there’s a shelter there.”

Maria Farrell, director of operations at anti-smoking charity Quite, added: “Smoking shelters could be part of the hospital’s strategy to help smokers quit, but it’s important smokers are supported to stop as well as providing a shelter for them.”

Mrs Totterdell, who took over the top job at the hospital five months ago, made her comments at the latest meeting of Southend Council’s community services and culture scrutiny committee.

Responding to a question from Tory councillor Stephen Aylen, in which he criticised the number of smokers gathering outside the hospital’s main entrances, Mrs Totterdell said it was a “real problem” to enforce the no-smoking rule.

At the moment, smoking is banned in all parts of the hospital’s grounds, although that dictum is flouted by many people, who simply leave the buildings before lighting up.

Mrs Totterdell said she found the sight of patients standing around the entrances with their drips still attached, “frustrating”.

She added: “When patients come into hospital, that is not the right time to try to get them to stop smoking. We should be putting up shelters rather than trying to fight it.”