Only one in ten mental health staff in agreement with government on smoking ban, The King's Fund survey suggests

Only one in ten staff working in mental health wards would consider banning smoking indoors, according to a King's Fund report, Clearing the Air: Debating smoke-free policies in psychiatric units, published today.

This key finding comes as the government announces a consultation which includes a ban on smoking in psychiatric units where people are expected to stay for less than 6 months*. Under the proposals, patients in long-stay residential units would be able to continue smoking indoors.

Staff in 420 psychiatric units were surveyed on their attitudes to a smoking ban in England. Out of a total of 150 responses, other key findings include:

  • Just under half the units (43 per cent) did not intend to introduce a smoking ban as the regulations stood at the time, whilst 14 per cent said they were not sure.
  • Almost three quarters of units (73.5 per cent) 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 (10.6 per cent) did not have smoking rooms and did not allow smoking inside, although smoking was allowed outdoors.

The survey findings are reported in Clearing the air: Debating smoke free policies in psychiatric units, which is an attempt to understand the challenges faced by psychiatric units in implementing a smoking ban.

The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'We know there is a smoking culture in psychiatric wards and that there will be hurdles to overcome in implementing a ban. This survey shows that staff are wary about patient behaviour on introducing bans. However, international evidence suggests that total indoor bans are less likely to result in aggressive patient behaviour than partial bans.

'Therefore there is still a way to go before staff are fully engaged with the government's proposals to ban smoking in the majority of psychiatric units. Staff will need support to deal with their anxiety about impending changes and patients must also be supported by joining existing cessation services with psychiatric services.

'But ultimately this is not about banning people from smoking. The right of the individual to smoke must be weighed up carefully against the rights of other patients and staff not to work in a smoking atmosphere. Where indoor bans are implemented, an issue will be how to provide safe outdoor environments for patients to smoke.'

Notes to editors: 

*On average patients spend 58 days in psychiatric units (ONS statistics). It is unclear exactly which units will fall under the government’s exemptions.

  1. For further information or interviews, please contact the King’s Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2581. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  2. The report Clearing the Air: Debating smoke-free policies in psychiatric units is available to download from Tuesday 18 July.
  3. The King’s Fund is holding a half-day seminar on Tuesday 18 July looking at the challenges of smoking regulations in psychiatric units.
  4.  The King’s Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through funding. We are a major resource to people working in health and social care, offering leadership development programmes; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.