NHS long-term plan 'must reverse smoking cessation cuts'

Smoking cessation should be available to all patients under NHS England's long-term plan, health leaders including the RCGP have warned, months after the services were highlighted among the worst hit by public health cuts.

Smoking: services to help patients quit reduced (Photo: iStock.com/Juanmonino)
Smoking: services to help patients quit reduced (Photo: iStock.com/Juanmonino)

A letter to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens - signed by five medical royal college presidents and over 800 health professionals and academics - describes smoking cessation services as ‘vital’ for patients and the wider health and social care system.

The letter also highlights smoking cessation services as 'one of the most cost-effective healthcare interventions', with the potential to save ‘billions of pounds a year’ by reducing demand on the NHS.

Analysis by The British Lung Foundation published in July found that cuts to public health funding have led to a dramatic fall in prescriptions for stop smoking products - leaving many GPs unable to provide patients with support to quit.

Smoking cessation cuts

Earlier this year, 40% of GP partners taking part in a GPonline survey reported a reduction in funding for smoking cessation treatments - making them the worst-hit of all public health services.

Professor Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), 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.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard added: ‘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.’

Prevention

In the foreword to DHSC’s recent policy paper prevention is better than cure, published earlier this month, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock described prevention as ‘crucial to improving the health of the whole population.’

In a separate statement, he added: ‘We know that smoking contributes to 4% of all hospital admissions in England each year. And smoking costs the NHS around £2.5bn each year… The next step towards a zero-smoking society is highly targeted anti-smoking interventions, especially in hospitals.

‘If someone is admitted as a heart patient, and we know that stopping smoking could save their life, then we will do everything we can to help them quit.’

However, analysis by the Health Foundation think tank after the autumn budget announcement showed that the chancellor's plans would lead to £200m cuts to public health funding on top of £500m cuts since 2014/15.

Speaking at the time, BMA public health committee chair Dr Peter English said: 'There is a need to reverse the cuts to public health budgets as in many areas, public health services do not adequately meet the health needs of the local population. Reductions to services such as smoking cessation and sexual health in some areas are directly contributing to unacceptable variations in the quality and quantity of care available to the population.'

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