A pioneering Ealing khat project has won a Department of Health award and has a national award voted by the Somali community.
Smokefree Ealing and Abdi Ali, an advisor at the service, won a Department of Health ‘celebrating public health excellence’ award last week, in recognition of outstanding work on the Ealing khat project.
The team also won a national award, voted by the Somali community, which recognised the effectiveness of Smokefree Ealing in delivering to a perceived ‘hard to reach’ community.
Before the ban, the use of khat, was common place amongst communities descending from the Horn of Africa and Yemen, and was being used widely in parts of Ealing.
The leaf is chewed socially and, although milder than alcohol, is a highly addictive drug that can have severe side effects such as psychotic episodes.
This is particularly prevalent in chewers who already have existing mental health problems.
The project run by the West London Mental Health Trust involved working with members of the Somali community, in Ealing, and educating them about the harmful nature of khat and supporting them with khat abstinence while directing people to local NHS addiction services.
Dr Jackie Chin, Ealing Council’s director of public health, who supported the nomination said: “We have heard first-hand the negative effect Khat use can have on mental health and family life. So as commissioners of this project we are delighted to learn that its success has been acknowledged by the Somali community it was set-up to support.
“I would like to join Ealing’s Somali community in thanking the Smokefree Ealing team for their hard work and dedication.”
In December, the Smokefree Ealing service, which is run by West London Mental Health Trust, was also nominated and won the national healthcare provider award at the national HAYA Somali community awards.
Johnny Nota, service manager at Smokefree Ealing, attended both award ceremonies and said: “I am delighted that the hard work of our team has been recognised so much recently. Abdi has done amazing work in the Ealing community with the khat project.
“I’m also particularly happy with the HAYA Somali award which was voted by the Somali community, recognising the effectiveness of Smokefree Ealing projects in delivering to a perceived ‘hard to reach’ community”.
Like a number of other NHS organisations, preparations are ongoing at West London Mental Health Trust to become smoke-free from 2016 by offering service users and staff advice and opportunities to help them quit.
Medical director, Dr Nick Broughton, said: “People who have a serious mental illness die on average 15-20 years earlier than the rest of the population. And many of these lost years are due to smoking.
“Reducing smoking in mental health services is therefore a vital part of improving people’s quality and length of life. We are now working with our patients, service users and staff to agree how we can become smoke-free across all of our sites.”
What is Khat?
Khat is a green-leafed plant that has been used for centuries across parts of Africa and Arabia. The main active ingredients are cathinone and cathine. The plant is regularly imported into the UK from Kenya and Ethiopia. The fresh leaves and small stems are chewed to a pulp and then spat out.
What are the effects of Khat?
The stimulant effects are often described as being somewhere between caffeine and amphetamine. Chewing khat leaves is reported to induce a state of euphoria and elation as well as feelings of increased alertness and arousal. Khat users can also experience an increase in blood pressure and heart rate.
There are a number of adverse physical effects that have been associated with heavy or long-term use of khat, including tooth decay and periodontal disease; gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation, ulcers, inflammation of the stomach, and increased risk of upper gastrointestinal tumors; and cardiovascular disorders such as irregular heart-beat, decreased blood flow, and heart attack.
There is also consistent evidence for a weak association between chronic khat use and mental disorders. Although there is no evidence that khat use causes mental illness, chewing khat leaves may worsen symptoms in patients who have pre-existing psychiatric conditions. It is unclear whether khat causes tolerance, physical dependency, addiction, or withdrawal, but long-term users have reported mild depression, nightmares, and trembling after ceasing to chew khat.