Sunday, 1 December 2013

Plain speaking (not wrappers) needed if we are to become a Non Smoking University

This week I attended my first Trust Board meeting as a Non Executive Director, at Wigan Wrightington and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust. It was an interesting and illuminating experience for me. The meeting is split into two parts, a public section and a private section. The first section was by far the longest, and the issues and reports presented varied and often complex. It occurred to me while reading the papers in preparation for the meeting, and there was plenty to read, just how complex balancing out the provision of health care services is with the promotion of healthier life styles.

One of the reports I read, noted the successes and challenges arising from the WWL decision to support the Public Health England Stopober 2013 Challenge which was aimed at helping patients and staff to stop smoking. A variety of supportive approaches were available to staff and patients who wanted to give up, and there was also a drive to challenge people seen smoking in the grounds. The latter is a difficult thing to do. And nurses in particular, are not that good at either setting an example or helping others to make better life choices around smoking (see Warne T., and McAndrew S., Health promotion and the role and function of the nurse. In: D. Whitehead and F. Irvine (eds) 2009Health Promotion and Health Education in Nursing: A framework for Practice, Palgrave, London).

This is a situation that has not changed since I wrote that book chapter. Indeed, in 2012, some 14% of adults in managerial and professional occupations in the UK (such as medicine and nursing) smoked. Smoking is the biggest cause of cancer in the world. Around 50% of the 10 million people who smoke in the UK will die of a smoking related illness if they continue to smoke. Sadly, despite it being illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18 in the UK, every year more than 200,000 children aged 11 – 15 start smoking.

Also sadly, some 63 years after Richard Doll first showed that there was a direct link between smoking and lung cancer, the UK Government is only now considering selling cigarettes in plain packing. In an announcement last week, the current UK Coalition Government pledged to bring forward legislation that would see all cigarettes being sold in plain white packaging or in packs bearing challenging health warnings by May 2015.

Come on, more than 34 million working days are lost each year because of smoking related sick leave and over 100,000 people a year in the UK die each year due to smoking. To put it another way that is 275 people a day that die from smoking related illnesses. Today is the 1st of December. Christmas day is now 25 day away or 6875 smoking related deaths away. Indeed by the time you read and get to the end of this blog, 5-6 people will have died from a smoking related illness. The situation is even more of a worry depending on where you happen to live in England.

I am writing this blog posting as an ex-smoker. I've not smoked for years now, and feel much better for giving up, have more money in my pocket and now have an almost evangelical zeal to help others to stop. My NHS pledge is to try and make the University of Salford the first non-smoking university in the UK before I retire - and the clock is ticking.