Few psychiatric units in England have fully implemented a total ban on smoking nearly a year after it came into effect, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation.
The results, published in a report – Death of the smoking den: The initial impact of no smoking legislation in England in 2008 – show that 85% of the 109 units that responded said the ban had been implemented only partially, or not at all, effectively. The ban came into effect on 1 July 2008.
Respondents indicated many practical problems arising from the ban’s implementation such as a rise in ‘secret smoking’ and occasions where staff felt they needed to ‘turn a blind eye’, particularly when patients are very unwell.
Additionally many units lacked a safe outdoor space where patients can smoke. Even where such a space existed, respondents said the need to escort patients outside to smoke was a considerable drain on staff time.
Respondents also reported feeling uncomfortable with their enforcement role. Some staff reported feeling more like police than nurses, while others cited incidents of aggression linked to the ban.
Simon Lawton-Smith, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, said: ‘The ban on smoking inside mental health units is justified on public health grounds, and we support it. However, while the ban has been successful in some cases, the findings of this survey suggest that there have been widespread practical problems.’
Should psychiatric units be an exception to the public smoking ban?