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Smoking policy in DHB mental health units

Letter to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman re: smoking policy in DHB mental health units

Dear Minister – you will be aware of the recent death of a young Palmerston North woman who was given leave from that Hospital’s Mental Health Unit to ‘go outside for a smoke’, due to the policy of all DHB’s to ban smoking on their precincts, no matter what the circumstances.

Here is the link to a news report about Chelsea Brunton’s death: http://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/news/92407431/Woman-who-went-missing-from-mental-health-ward-found-dead.

In 2015 our son, Nicky Stevens, who was a compulsory inpatient at Waikato DHB’s Henry Bennett Centre, also died under similar circumstances. Despite being at risk of suicide, he was given unsupervised leave to go off the Hospital precinct for a ‘smoke break’.

All DHBs appear to have adopted the same one-size-fits all policy of a complete ban on smoking, no matter what the circumstances.

Most, if not all, DHB mental health units have secure outdoor areas where patients were previously allowed out to smoke cigarettes, and could be allowed to do so again – provided DHB policies are amended to provide for this common sense solution.

It is ironic that our family were, and are, non-smokers, and support moves to cut smoking in the community. But when someone is severely mentally unwell – the reason for them being an inpatient in a mental health unit – smoking cessation is not the most important issue.

There is much evidence that mentally unwell people are much more likely to be smokers than the general population; our son Nicky did not smoke before he started having mental wellness problems when he was a teenager, and we hear many other similar stories from affected families.

We ask you, as Minister of Health, to require every DHB in New Zealand to reconsider their smoking policies, to address the issue of mental health inpatients, and where they are able to smoke.

Quite explicitly, lives are being put at risk by these inflexible DHB policies, and we believe you have a responsibility as Minister of Health to take the action requested reduce the risk for severely mentally unwell people.

Yours sincerely

Jane Stevens and Dave Macpherson


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