Smoking ban 'risk to ward patients'

The recovery of mental health patients at Palmerston North Hospital could be jeopardised if their ward is made completely smokefree as planned, a Manawatu support worker says.

The MidCentral Health hospital campus became smokefree several years ago, including outdoor areas and car parks, but the Mental Health Service in ward 21 remained as a smoking area.

MidCentral District Health Board specialist community and regional services operations director Nicholas Glubb said at a meeting this week the plan for the ward to become completely smokefree was "only months away".

Mental health support worker Dean Black, who has suffered from mental illness for several years, said while it was well known smoking was bad for you, many people who experienced mental illness used smoking as a coping mechanism.

"I think it's a tough one. I'm not for smoking, it would be great if we could all give up smoking, but for me someone's mental wellbeing is more important, particularly when they're acutely unwell. So in this sense I'd like to see it remain as a smoking area solely because it would help them with recovering quickly and moving out to community-based recovery, which is much more efficient than being in the ward."

Often hospital patients were more reliant on smoking than when they were in the community, Black said.

"In a situation when you're dealing with someone who is acutely unwell, I think they'd need to be smoking when they need to smoke.

"For some people it's something they do daily to keep themselves well. Particularly when you're unwell, you tend to do it a lot more. I think taking that away would probably cause a lot of agitation for a lot of them," he said.

MidCentral District Health Board member Lindsay Burnell questioned the plans to make the ward smokefree at the board's hospital advisory committee meeting on Tuesday.

"It's a big challenge for these people because not only are they relying on medications but sometimes they rely on cigarettes, so it's a big challenge working with these people," Burnell said.

MidCentral Mental Health Services service manager Jenneatte Wylie said a smokefree action plan had been developed and a working group had started implementing the plan, including education of clients, families and staff.

"Ward 21 will become a smokefree environment once we are confident all the actions have been implemented and training and education completed. Community care workers have been working for months with clients and their families in preparation for the ward going smokefree."

Wylie said for "informal patients" who wish to smoke, staff would take all steps necessary to help the patient manage or quit smoking.

Patients not able to leave the ward because of health needs would not be able to smoke, she said.

Manawatu Standard