Going smoke-free

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

BBC Radio 5 Live explores the Trust's smoke-free scheme

To create a healthier environment, staff, patients and visitors to the Trust are not allowed to smoke on sites, including wards, grounds and vehicles.

Research has revealed people with mental health problems are more likely to smoke than the general population which is one of the reasons they tend to have poorer physical health and lower life expectancy.

Lucy Grey from Radio 5 Live met Mary Yates, who runs the Trust’s smokefree scheme, at Bethlem Royal Hospital to investigate how hard it is for mental health hospitals to go smoke-free and ask what impact it has had on patients.

Mary Yates, Nurse Consultant and smoke-free lead at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust said: “Trying to stop smoking is a terribly difficult thing to do.

“Our work is all about making accessible to people with mental health problems the evidence -based treatments to help them to stop.”

Mary explained the transition for some patients can be huge – particularly among those who have smoked for a long time. However, she said transition for some is huge but the motivation among many was great – some use electronic cigarettes.

“People smoked here routinely to punctuate the day, to deal with the boredom. There was a great belief here among staff and patients – and I include myself in that. I thought helping people to smoke was a good thing to do and that’s what I learnt as a student nurse and as I grew up in my career.

“If people were happy we would take them for a cigarette, if they were upset, distressed, frustrated or angry it was a solution. We believed taking people for a cigarette would help people manage stress and their difficult emotions.”

“It is the complete opposite, now we’re seeing people are able to get control on their lives and their able to manage their stress much more successfully when they stop smoking.”

A story from a former smoker 

Oliver, who is being treated for paranoid schizophrenia used to smoke 20 cigarettes a day.

“When you’re addicted to something you just have to have it. Smoking tied in with my mental illness because every time I needed a smoke, the staff would say no, you can’t go outside. It used to affect my mental illness because it used to make me angry, it used to set me back.

“I was getting cravings for nicotine and it was very bad experience for me. There used to be a lot of smoking on the ward but they stopped the smoking in the buildings and the grounds.

“It was difficult for me so then I made a decision. There was no point stressing myself out because I can’t get leave to go outside – it was messing up my health and I thought I need to make a change in my life – let me see how far I get. I succeeded. I’m very happy. About nine months now, my mum is very happy. I feel much better - I’m getting healthier and healthier. They kept encouraging me – it’s saved my life.”

The clip is available on the BBC iPlayer Radio - the feature starts at around 37 minutes into the programme.

Find out more on Mary Yates’ blog.

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