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Smoking cessation services face cuts

Survey reveals cash-strapped councils and commissioners restricting drugs and counselling

Mark Gould

Monday, 20 February 2017

Smoking cessation services are being hit as cash-strapped local authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) look to save money. Evidence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by The Observer reveals that an increasing number of CCGs have been instructing GPs to stop providing the services with many CCGs arguing it is no longer their responsibility as local authorities are now responsible for public health.

Local authorities hold a £2.8 billion ring-fenced public health budget but, as the grants have been pared back in other areas, councils have pulled their funding for stop smoking services.

The report says that this has led to withdrawal of nicotine replacement therapies, bupropion (brand name Zyban) or varenicline (Champix) – in many areas. When used in conjunction with counselling, studies suggest the chances of a smoker quitting can be substantial.

Almost a quarter of a million people stopped smoking in the 12 months to April 2015 as a result of using the services, a quit rate of 51%. The services are said to have a high success rate in helping smokers in poorer communities.

“We are increasingly concerned that cuts in council spending, NHS cost pressures and a lack of joined-up thinking by central government are combining to block progress on cutting smoking, still the No 1 public health challenge facing the country,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).

The report says CCGs have imposed restrictions in Worcestershire, East Kent, York and Somerset. Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead. But local authorities are failing to plug the gap created by GPs discontinuing the service. A survey by Ash and Cancer Research UK has found that smoking cessation budgets have been cut in almost three in five authorities. Health organisations claim this is a false economy.

“It’s alarming that a pre-operative patient advised to stop smoking will only get NHS help if they live in the right place – a postcode lottery that will damage patients’ health and certainly cost the health service money in the long run,” Arnott said.

A Department of Health spokesman said smoking rates in England were the lowest they have ever been as a result of its policies. “The needs of individual communities vary significantly across the country, and local areas are best placed to understand local needs,” the spokesman said.

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