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Medical leaders urge NHS to ensure universal smoking cessation help

Royal Colleges plea for treatment for every smoker

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 15 November 2018

The vital help offered to smokers from smoking cessation services to quit their habit has been underlined by presidents of several medical royal colleges and hundreds of other health professionals in a letter* published today in The BMJ.

The letter sent to NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens comes from the Royal College of Physicians, RCGP, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and was also signed by more than 800 other doctors, healthcare professionals and academics.

The signatories called on NHS England to ensure treatment was provided for every smoker cared for by the NHS, as part of the imminent NHS Long-Term Plan.

They pointed out that treatment for tobacco dependency was one of the most cost-effective healthcare interventions, with the potential to produce substantial in-year savings by reducing demand on the NHS. 

“The government’s ambition for a five-year improvement in disability-free life expectancy by 2035 is one we can all share, but if it is to be achieved the NHS has to ensure that tobacco dependence treatment is provided for every smoker cared for by the NHS,” says the letter. 

“Smoking is the leading cause of years of life lost in the UK, responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between richest and poorest. Smokers lose on average 10 years of life, and for every death caused by smoking it is estimated that another 20 people are suffering from serious illnesses attributable to smoking.”

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “It is vital that tobacco dependence treatment for all smokers is part of the NHS long-term plan if we are to ensure the sustainability of the NHS and the wider social care system.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP chair, said: “We know that smoking can lead to many serious, long-term health conditions that present in general practice on a daily basis, and cost the NHS billions of pounds a year.

“We also know that smoking cessation services can help to reduce our patients’ dependence on smoking, so it’s important that this is reflected in the forthcoming NHS long-term plan, in the best interests of our patients’ long-term health and wellbeing, and the NHS as a whole.”

Charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “The evidence is clear that even people already seriously ill from smoking can improve the quality and length of their lives by quitting.

“If they quit, they can nearly double their life expectancy, yet currently only 13% of cancer patients are prescribed stop smoking treatment and, unsurprisingly, the majority continue to smoke. Tobacco dependence treatment is cheap and cost-effective and NHS England must ensure it is integral to the new long-term plan.”

* Response: Open letter to Simon Stevens to ensure that tobacco dependence treatment is provided for every smoker cared for by the NHS, as part of the long-term plan. BMJ 2018;361:k2769. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.k2769

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