Almost all mental health nurses do not want smoking banned in psychiatric wards, often because they fear that it would spark aggression from patients, a survey claims.
The finding comes as the government announced a consultation on its health bill which includes a ban on smoking in psychiatric units where people are expected to stay for less than six months. Under the proposals, patients in long-stay residential units would be able to continue smoking indoors.
It is estimated that 70% of patients in psychiatric hospital smoke, and 50% are heavy smokers. This compares with 25% and 9%, respectively, of non psychiatric patients.
Research also suggests smoking is higher among mental health nurses than other nurses.
The King’s Fund surveyed staff – mainly nurses – in 420 psychiatric units on how they felt about a smoking ban in England. A total of 150 responses were received.
Ninety per cent were against a smoking ban in psychiatric wards.
One respondent said: “Patients use smoking as a de-stressor. Many cannot cope without a frequent cigarette.”
Another said: “A ban will lead to total rioting! It will cause mental deterioration and agitation leading to violence and aggression”
The survey found that 74 per cent of units 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 had banned smoking inside.
A report based on the survey highlighted, however, that units which had banned smoking rejected the idea that banning would spark off patient aggression, particularly as patients could smoke outside.
Some staff also favoured a ban as it meant nurses were no longer exposed to passive smoking. A ban could also improve the ward’s therapeutic environment.
“Staff typically described smoking rooms as ‘dilapidated and dirty’ or ‘dark, dirty and miserable’,” read the report.
“Closing the smoking rooms…had led to therapeutic benefits. The rooms were now used for clinical activities or as lounges,” the report stated.