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Clearing the air?

18th July 2006

18072006_femalesmoking1.jpgAccording to a new report, 'Clearing the air: Debating smoke free policies in psychiatric units', published by the King’s Fund, only one in ten staff working in mental health wards would consider banning smoking indoors. The report is an attempt to understand the challenges faced by psychiatric units in implementing a smoking ban.

The publication of the survey coincides with the government announcement of a consultation which includes a ban on smoking in psychiatric units where people are expected to stay for less than 6 months; patients in long-stay residential units would be able to continue smoking indoors.

Staff in 420 psychiatric units were surveyed on their attitudes to a smoking ban in England, with 150 of these responding.

Key findings include;

- Just under half the units (43 per cent) did not intend to introduce a smoking ban as the regulations stood at the time, whilst 14 per cent said they were not sure.

- Almost three quarters of units (73.5 per cent) currently provide a smoking room for patients sometimes serving as a television or coffee lounge for smoking and non-smoking patients.

- One in ten units (10.6 per cent) did not have smoking rooms and did not allow smoking inside, although smoking was allowed outdoors.

Niall Dickson, King’s Fund chief executive, said that there is a smoking culture in psychiatric wards and there will be hurdles to overcome in implementing a ban, adding "this survey shows that staff are wary about patient behaviour on introducing bans. However, international evidence suggests that total indoor bans are less likely to result in aggressive patient behaviour than partial bans."

Mr Dickson said that there is still a way to go before staff are fully engaged with the government’s proposals to ban smoking in the majority of psychiatric units; staff will need support to deal with their anxiety about impending changes and patients must also be supported by joining existing cessation services with psychiatric services.

He concluded “ ... ultimately this is not about banning people from smoking. The right of the individual to smoke must be weighed up carefully against the rights of other patients and staff not to work in a smoking atmosphere. Where indoor bans are implemented, an issue will be how to provide safe outdoor environments for patients to smoke.?

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