Smoking ban a catch-22

NO SMOKING: The mental health unit at the new hospital.
NO SMOKING: The mental health unit at the new hospital.

STAFF and patients at Bloomfield Hospital will be banned from smoking when the new mental health units at Orange Base Hospital open in November.

Orange’s mental health services are preparing for the ban, which will remove exemptions to NSW Health’s smoke-free policy for Bloomfield patients and staff.

Patients and staff are currently able to smoke in designated areas on the Bloomfield campus, but this will be banned from November 1 to coincide with the opening of the acute mental health unit.

Similar bans are already in place at psychiatric centres throughout NSW, with the Bloomfield campus among the last to become smoke free.

Consumer groups fear the banning of tobacco products could create additional stress for patients with complex mental health disorders, but the health service said it had a medical and ethical obligation to create the healthiest environment possible for patients and staff.

Greater Western Area Health Service mental health, drug and alcohol clinical director Dr Scott Clark said patients and staff, many of whom were smokers, had been notified of the changes and were being offered counselling and nicotine replacement therapies such as inhalers and patches.

He said fortnightly meetings with staff and patient representatives had also been taking place for the past three months.

“I wouldn’t say that we came across any firm resistance to it, what was of concern to many [patients] was that they would feel worse... the other concern was that they would lose the social connection smoking can create,” he said.

“We’re phasing it in in a gradual way and we’re offering support for patients and staff.”

Simon Tatz, the director of communications for the Mental Health Council of Australia, said enforcing a smoking ban could enhance the suffering of people experience mental health problems.

“We are very anti-smoking and do believe smoking is a well-known risk to your health,” he said.

“However, where people are facing complex and severe mental health problems, while we want them to stop smoking, we are aware that ceasing that activity, along with other factors, can cause problems.

“What we’re trying to do is deal with the most pressing health needs first and once people are in recovery and resilient, then address the smoking issue.”

Chairperson of the community reference group for mental health Sister Mary Trainor said she approved of the ban but leniency could be necessary for patients with acute mental health conditions.

GWAHS manager of mental health, drug and alcohol services Adrian Fahy said anxiety associated with nicotine withdrawal could be managed with nicotine replacement therapies.