NHS staff have accused smoking colleagues of compromising patient safety by leaving already understaffed wards without adequate cover to have a cigarette.

While NHS guidance states that smoking should be confined to designated breaks, employees claim some staff are leaving Glasgow’s new hospital more frequently to smoke leaving wards dangerously understaffed.

Due to the size of the hospital and smoking regulations, which require staff to leave the grounds, they say staff are away from the ward for longer than before.

A nursing source told the Evening Times it is a particular problem during night shifts and that it is causing a rift amongst staff.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it was concerned by the allegations, described them as “unacceptable.”

It is understood that the issue was raised by union officials before Christmas which resulted in guidance being issued that smoking should be confined to designated breaks.

Nurses are entitled to a 20 minute break every six hours.

A nursing source said: “Wards are already short staffed so for the staff who are on to take regular smoke breaks off the ward is completely unacceptable.

“Managers know it happens and are doing NOTHING to prevent it.

“I am sick of being left on a ward of 30 patients with only one member of staff whilst the other three staff who smoke disappear off the ward nearly every hour for 25 mins at a time, it’s a complete joke.

“These breaks aren’t short breaks. If you consider that they have to use the lift down to ground floor, walk the the hospital perimeter, have a cigarette or two then walk back and go back up in the lift, these breaks last a minimum of 20 mins and happen almost hourly.

“How do you deal with a cardiac arrest during one of the times?

“I feel that this issue is known by senior managers who have chosen to ignore it.

“I’ve seen staff take eight smoke breaks in one night on top of their “official” breaks.

“I’m sick of reading about issues like parking and laundry issues, these things aren’t going to be fatal for patients, however the low staffing levels due to the smoke breaks will indeed lead to a serious incident,”

A spokeswoman for NHSGGC said: “Patient safety is paramount within NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and there are clear guidelines for employees about scheduling breaks, while maintaining safe staffing levels.

“We are concerned with the member of staff’s allegations as this is unacceptable practise.

“If any of our employees have any concerns regarding patient safety on their wards they must follow the escalation policy and should also record on the Board’s risk management Datix system. This records any concerns and ensures they are actioned through the local teams.

“The Board follows the national guidance for NHS Scotland on whistleblowing. Our policy clearly sets out the steps to be taken in whistleblowing cases and the support offered to staff.

“We would encourage any staff member who has concerns with regard to patient safety issues to use this policy to raise their concerns and assure them these will be taken seriously and they will be fully supported.”