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19 May 2010
New research to help smokers with mental illness

Researchers at The University of Nottingham have won government funding to improve the services which help people living with serious mental illness to tackle their tobacco dependence.

The grant is part of a £1.2 million package of funding from the Department of Health to the UK Centre of Tobacco Control Studies which is coordinated at the University. The funding will drive   six pilot projects across the country all aimed at improving ‘quit smoking’ services for vulnerable sections of the population. 

The researchers at Nottingham will be involved in all six projects and lead on one project focusing on mental health.  They will be working with the local mental health Trust, (Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust), and Nottingham’s Stop Smoking Service, New Leaf, to assess and improve the support given to smokers with severe mental illness who are trying to quit or need encouragement to stop smoking.

Patients diagnosed with mental health problems are up to three times more likely to be smokers than the general population. For example around 70 per cent of people with schizophrenia are smokers. Mental illness sufferers as a group are much more likely to be heavy smokers with severe nicotine addiction. The disproportionately high rates of smoking have also been found to cause a higher level of tobacco-related diseases and death rate among mental health patients. They also tend to need higher doses of antipsychotic medication because components of tobacco smoke speeds up drug metabolism.

The research programme is co-ordinated by Ann McNeill, Professor of Health Policy and Promotion at The University of Nottingham, and led by Dr Elena Ratschen who said: “This project is vital to address the historical culture of tolerance of smoking in the mental health sector. It’s a largely neglected area with smoking being deeply embedded in the culture of treatment centres and largely condoned by clinicians and psychiatric staff. Despite the smoke-free policy, smoking in and around treatment settings is still the rule rather than exception, and often a not only accepted but expected (and reinforced) standard. We will introduce procedures that we hope will help to address the smoking culture and that will make sure smokers with mental health problems are offered the same support as smokers without mental health problems, if they so wish.”

Garry Bevis from the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust said: “We are delighted to be involved in offering the smoking cessation service to our inpatients as well as those in the community.  As a trust, Nottinghamshire Healthcare is committed to supporting our service users in leading healthier lifestyles and given the high proportion of smokers with mental health problems this is an issue that we are keen to further develop.”

Researchers from five other universities are involved in the other pilots which will focus on children’s services (University College, London), prisons (Stirling and Central Lancashire), relapse prevention and smokeless tobacco use (Queen Mary, London), and pregnancy (Bath University). The programme is expected to last from April 2010 to September 2011.
If the research and resulting pilot schemes are successful and have a positive effect on quitting rates in these areas of the population, the new services will be implemented across the UK.


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