Tackling health inequalities with those who have mental health conditions

People who use mental health services have an average life expectancy which is 12 years lower than the adult population. The majority of this is caused by lifestyle factors, especially smoking. Working alongside Public Health England, the Clinical Network brought partners together to establish a Healthy Lifestyles steering group in July 2014.

The aim of the first project for the group was to reduce the health inequalities experienced by those with severe mental health conditions, by eliminating tobacco use across the North East`s two Mental Health Trust estates (Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trusts) . This built upon NICE guidance (PH48), which set out recommendations for reducing smoking amongst mental health service users.

Both Trusts successfully went fully smokefree on No Smoking Day, March 2016, following a co-ordinated approach involving early engagement with service users and carers, facilitated by North East Together. The group worked with Local Authority Commissioners of Stop Smoking Services to adapt the existing referral pathway from MH Trust setting back into the community.

We are now evaluating the impact of going smokefree in the mental health trusts.

Taking a regional, partnership approach to smokefree estates across NHS MH Trusts has been shown to be effective. Co-ordinating resource and expertise has overcome some of the barriers faced by organisations and localities working in isolation.

“The North of England already has poorer health outcomes than most of the rest of the country but, on top of that, patients with mental health problems suffer a life expectancy equivalent to the 1950s. The Mental Health Network is committed to improving the physical health of mental health patients by reducing smoking rates which are double that of the general population”.
Dr Angus Bell, Senior Clinical Director of Adult Services, Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust

“Supporting service users who wish to quit smoking is probably the most important intervention we can undertake. This project has, and will, help the Trust meet its aim of improving health and reducing inequity.”
Dr Damian Robinson, Group Medical Director (Inpatient Care Services) / Director of IPC & EPRR, Northumberland Tyne & Wear Foundation Trust

“North East Together, as the regional network for people with lived experience of mental health conditions, is aware that mental health service users have a significantly lower life expectancy than the majority of the population and that a major cause of this is due to the prevalence of nicotine use in this group. The network supports the principle that this inequality must be addressed by health services with involvement from service users, and that service users should receive specialist smoking cessation services upon request throughout their recovery journey.”
Catherine Haigh, Chair of North East Together