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.
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
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
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.
Jane Stevens and Dave Macpherson