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Emergency staff want to save smokers’ lives

Dr Ruth Large is passionate about smoking cessation referrals at Waikato Hospital's Emergency Department

Dr Ruth Large is passionate about smoking cessation referrals at Waikato Hospital’s Emergency Department

Emergency department staff save lives every day, but they still find time to think about the longer term risks to people’s health.

Most people think of Emergency Department as the place that deals with the immediate needs of very sick people, accident victims and those with serious injury. And they do.

But at Waikato Hospital this very busy team of health professionals still finds time to identify people who are thinking about giving up smoking, and give them support.

Dr Ruth Large, Emergency Physician

Dr Ruth Large, Emergency Physician

In fact 90 per cent of people who smoke and who attended Emergency Department in March for a range of injuries and illnesses were offered help to give up smoking. Emergency Department discharged 937 people in March, 127 were identified as currently smoking and of these 112 received support to stop smoking including advice, treatment and referral to stop-smoking agencies.

Kate Dallas, nurse coordinator for the DHB’s smokefree services, said Waikato Hospital ED is one of the departments making the highest number of referrals to community smoking cessation services. “They are not just ticking a box. They are organising follow up in the community for those people who might want to stop.”

Of the 90 referrals the community cessation services received from all Waikato Hospital wards and department in March, 40 came from Emergency Department. “That’s a tremendous achievement,” Kate Dallas said.

Emergency staff know smoking can hinder recovery rates for surgery and wound healing, cause problems for newborn babies, and make people more susceptible to flu and colds, as well as the long-term life-threatening risks associated with cigarette smoking.

Emergency physician Dr Ruth Large knows that at a personal level with two family members who smoke getting cancer. She describes helping people to stop smoking as “one of the most rewarding things I do in Emergency Department.”

You might think that people attending Emergency Department would be too worried about their immediate health problem to think about stopping smoking, but that is often not the case. “A few patients are not interested but most are, and they appreciate us talking about it,” she says. “They might be here for an issue that is made worse by smoking, or will take longer to heal if they smoke, so they can see the personal connection. It makes sense.”

In the end, it’s all about saving lives.

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