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Psychiatric patients launch test case battle for right to smoke while detained

March 20, 2008
by Staff Reporter

Psychiatric patients have launched a High Court test case battle for the right to smoke while detained in hospital.

As a result of new laws, patients held under the Mental Health Act could unfairly become the only group of people in the country banned from smoking "in the privacy of their own home", judges were told this month.

Paul Bowen, appearing for patients detained at Rampton top security psychiatric hospital in Nottinghamshire, said others whose homes are in public spaces, such as soldiers and care home patients, will still be able to smoke under special exemptions.

But Rampton patients face a total ban that amounts to unfair and unlawful discrimination, he said.

From July 1, all mental health units would have a complete ban on smoking indoors. Smoking in designated rooms would no longer be permitted.

That would mean a complete ban for those psychiatric patients not allowed outdoors.

In other cases the configuration of psychiatric units would make it impossible for patients to smoke outdoors, argued Mr Bowen.

Patients' average stay at Rampton is eight years. For some it is for life.

For the vast majority, the hospital is their home under human rights laws.

A Kings Fund survey two years ago reported that almost all mental health nurses do not want smoking banned in psychiatric wards at all, often because they fear that it would spark aggression from patients.

Some do, however, support a total ban.

Vandrine Brookes, a mental health nurse at Royal London Hospital in east London, told psychminded that smoking is no different to self harm and so should be banned.

She added: ?As for detained patients, provisions can be made to support and provide locations for these clients, but not at the expense of passive smokers.?

See also:
July 21, 2006: Nurses do not want smoking ban in psychiatric wards


We've been misled

From: Robert Feal-Martinez, former police officer, Swindon
Date: March 21, 2008

As someone who is a life-long smoker I was heavily involved in, a pro-choice organisation which flagged up this problem four years ago. It was appalling that the government misled everyone into believing the exemption for long-term patients existed, and it was only when the regulations were published that they had changed it to a 'stay of execution'.

Anyone has come into contact with severely mentally disturbed patients, as I have as a former police officer, will know that it is vital to keep them as calm as is possible, and the removal of the right to smoke will 'spark' a series of incidents in high security hospitals.

The nurse quoted should be ashamed of herself putting the perceived risk of passive smoking ahead of their duty of care to patients.


Only comfort is a cigarette

From: Dr Phil Button, associate specialist in anaesthesia, Basingstoke & North Hampshire Hospital
Date: March 26, 2008

I regularly work in a psychiatric hospital. When you look into the dedicated patients' smoking room you will see forlorn, lost elderly individuals whose only comfort is to sit with a cigarette. It is something which they enjoy and find familiar in a very foreign environment, whilst in a distressed state. All I would ask, is how on earth is this going to help them?


Disgraceful that patients have to fight for dignity

From: Fredrik Eich, psychanalyst, London
Date: March 26, 2008

Ten years ago I would have been shocked to hear a psychiatric professional state "that smoking is no different to self harm" but that sort of discrimination is now, sadly, mainstream and encouraged.

I remember a tobacco control advocate on Radio 4 in 2006 deliberately conflating studies on chronic tobacco smoke exposure with acute exposure to bamboozle listeners and justify the removal of smoking rooms in psychiatric hospitals - now we see the result.

That psychiatric patients should have to fight for a little space and human dignity is a credit to them and an absolute disgrace to the psychiatric profession.


Smoking ban prevents recovery

From: Lyn Ladds, Worcester
Date: April 2, 2008

This is utterly disgraceful. Thankfully I have not had cause to stay in a psychiatric ward/hospital, but I do suffer from depression and anxiety and without my cigarettes I really don't know what I would do.

I find that smoking does have a calming effect most of the time, although in 2006 I did get bad enough to be referred to a psychiatrist and have been on quite heavy medication, which is now just starting to reduce.

I have no idea how these people will cope if this ban for them goes through, nor the staff, who may well be put in dangerous situations because of it.

I just know how I feel if I can't smoke and it is far from calm!

Since the ban I very rarely go out as not being able to smoke with a meal or a drink (not that I drink much, mainly coffee and water) makes me very anxious and means going out is no longer pleasurable.

However, many people who suffer as I do need to get out and mix with people as part of our recovery - the smoking ban is actively preventing this for many and causing many of us with any level of mental health problem to become isolated and insular, which is not healthy!

It is about time that this nanny government got off its high horse and started looking into all the facts about smoking and all its peripherals and stop being taken in by the likes of ASH who do nothing but lie through their back teeth to achieve what they want, which is a total ban of anything they disapprove of. These people are far more dangerous than any amount of second hand smoke!

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