Urgent action is needed to improve the training about smoking cessation that mental health nurses and psychiatrists receive, a report has argued.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said that one in four smokers in England also has a long-term mental health condition.
It cited research that found people with serious mental illness die on average 15 to 20 years before the rest of the population, and smoking is one of the leading causes of this.
Its report Smokefree Skills: Training needs of mental health nurses and psychiatrists, found that a lack of training left mental health physicians and nurses ill-equipped to implement smoking cessation strategies.
Only 17% of mental health nurses (MHNs) and 13% of psychiatrists surveyed felt their undergraduate training on the links between smoking and mental health had been adequate while 28% of MHNs who had completed a postgraduate course said the same. Only a third of psychiatrists felt their specialty training had been adequate.
One mental health nurse said: “There’s a complete blind spot about the destruction that tobacco dependence does. To not have that embedded in all healthcare professionals training is just daft, and it has to change.”
Most psychiatrists (81%) and MHNs (91%) felt training should be compulsory in mental health academic programmes. The majority felt it would be beneficial to them to receive regular refresher training so their skills and knowledge reflect the latest evidence.
The report called for the implemenation of a national training smoking training plan for mental health staff to ensure they are equipped to help their patients quit.
“Smoking in mental health services needs to be taken as seriously as alcohol and illicit drug addictions. Many thousands of people with mental health conditions die from smoking every year and this will continue unless there is adequate investment in staff training,” said Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at ASH.
“If the government is serious in its desire to level up society and deliver a smokefree nation by 2030 doctors and nurses must be trained to can give smokers with mental health conditions the help they need to quit.”
Professor Dame Anne Marie Rafferty, president of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Our patients need us to provide effective support for an addiction that is killing them. That doesn’t mean every mental health nurse needs to become an expert, but we must be able to talk to people about their smoking in a meaningful way and discuss the options out there to help them quit.”
Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the report shone a light on training gaps that were undermining progress.
“Smoking is not an inevitable part of our patient’s lives but an addiction to treat. Improving the skills and knowledge of psychiatrists is a vital step in the right direction,” he said.