Pregnancy a 'missed opportunity' for GPs to help smokers quit, say researchers

GPs and other health professionals are 'missing opportunities' to prescribe NRT to pregnant women who smoke, with just one in 10 receiving the treatment, according to a UK study.

GPs are urged to offer NRT to pregnant women who smoke (Photo: SPL)
GPs are urged to offer NRT to pregnant women who smoke (Photo: SPL)

Researchers from the University of Nottingham found just one in ten pregnant smokers were prescribed NRT, despite the treatment being considered less harmful than smoking.

Research published in the British Journal of General Practice analysed how many women were prescribed NRT during pregnancy and in the nine months before and after.

The study, which ran from 2001 to 2012, tracked 388,142 pregnancies, of which there were 71,685 smokers (18.5%). Just 11% of smokers were prescribed NRT, which researchers said represented ‘missed opportunities’ to prevent harm to the majority of smoking mothers and their developing foetuses.

In the periods before and after pregnancy, only half of this number (5%) were prescribed NRT.

Women tend to be more receptive to smoking cessation interventions during their pregnancy, the researchers said. Meetings between health professionals and pregnant women should therefore be ‘an opportunity to discuss and offer interventions to promote smoking cessation’, they added.

Treatment too short

The study also showed that NRT was prescribed to pregnant women for an average of only two weeks, a timeframe which is ‘unlikely to be effective’ considering a period of eight to 12 weeks is recommended for the treatment to have any effect.

The researchers said: ‘The present study findings give insight into NRT prescribing in and around pregnancy, which is important for policy-makers and GPs to monitor and promote smoking cessation in females of childbearing age.’

They added that more should also be done to help women of child-bearing age quit smoking before they become pregnant, which would yield greater benefits and should be a ‘prioritised focus’ for healthcare providers.

NHS figures show that 26% of mothers in the UK smoked at some point just before or during their pregnancy, and 12% continued to smoke throughout.

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