London, England

By Olivia Harris

Smokers in dressing gowns and slippers, some in wheelchairs or with drips, are a common site gathered outside hospitals in Britain.

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is proposing to ‘end this terrible spectacle’ and ban smoking and smoking shelters from hospital grounds. For patients determined to smoke, this means moving further away from the hospital.

The defiant women I met yesterday smoking outside the hospital blamed the doctors and nurses. “They’d say an ingrown toenail was due to my smoking, if it suited them,” insisted one woman who wouldn’t be photographed but who was in hospital for a smoking-related disease. Her friend Margaret, who’s smoked for 40 years, whispered to me that her voice box will be removed in a fortnight. She said sadly that she’s having an awful time and just wants to enjoy her cigarettes in peace.

Gloria Haslem is 66 years old, has smoked for 50 years and can still run for the bus. To her these changes are incomprehensible. She gave birth to two large babies in a maternity unit where there were ashtrays by the bed.

Eventually, a security guard bravely approached the group and asked them to move away from the door so the smoke wouldn’t drift inside. But the women stood firm and sent him scuttling back inside.