A FAMILY is fuming after their niece went into the Whakatane Hospital Mental Health Unit, a non-smoker and came out a smoker.

A Whakatane woman, who did not wish to be named to protect her niece’s identity, said her 20-year-old relative was admitted to the unit for a month in July.

“She was a non-smoker and she came out a full-blown smoker.

“It is my understanding that the Ministry of Health is pushing for a smoke-free New Zealand and that all district health boards are smoke-free on their grounds,” the woman said.

The Bay of Plenty District Health Board’s smoking cessation co-ordinator, Karyn Borman, said the incident was regretted and that smoking was not permitted on its grounds by staff or patients.

However, the patient’s aunt said the policy was not being adhered to.

“Patients and staff have been seen still smoking on the property.”

The woman said her niece was not in a good state when she was admitted and felt pressured to smoke.

“Everybody else is smoking, so there is a bit of peer pressure there.”

Whakatane Hospital’s Mental Health Unit.

She said it was well known that there was a hut outside the mental health unit where patients went for a smoke. Staff stood outside the laundry when they went for a smoke.

The area, at the rear of the mental health unit was enclosed by a fence.

“I did contact the district health board smoking cessation officer (Ms Borman) and discussed my concerns with her.”

“She got back to me and said they had spoken to the manager. They apologised and were very sorry that it happened and that it shouldn’t have happened.”

However, the woman said her concern now was that there was no indication that they would put an end to the practice of allowing staff and patients to smoke on the hospital grounds.

“She suggested my niece make a formal complaint, but she doesn’t want to.”

“I am disappointed the dhb has done nothing about it.”

“My understanding is, and of course I looked it up, that staff smoking on dhb property is serious misconduct.”

Ms Borham confirmed she had spoken with the patient’s aunt and had expressed her regret about what had occurred.

“Our DHB is strongly committed to supporting patients and clients to be smoke-free”.

“At this time, we have not yet been provided with patient permission to investigate the incident thoroughly and I would like to take this opportunity to again encourage this course of action.

“The [district health board] smoking policy clearly outlines that there is no smoking permitted on our grounds by clients, visitors and staff.

“Since being made aware that there have been some breaches to this policy, I have been working with our teams to improve our practice around supporting clients who smoke and also to investigate the allegations of staff smoking on the grounds,” she said.

“The Bay of Plenty has an excellent smoking cessation programme called Hapainga, which we work closely with and together we are committed to support our staff and clients to become smokefree. We also strongly support the government’s Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal.