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‘Every year fewer patients are being given treatments to help them quit smoking’ – BLF


BLF Report

A new British Lung Foundation report ‘Less Help to Quit: What’s happening to stop smoking prescriptions across Britain’ has been published. It shows the most effective treatment for tobacco dependency – medication alongside behavioural support – is increasingly hard for patients to access through primary care.

The huge decline in the number of items of nicotine replacement therapy and medication being prescribed is deeply concerning. Stop smoking treatments greatly increase the chance of a smoker quitting successfully.

In some areas, GPs are being asked to stop prescribing these treatments altogether, in opposition to national guidelines.

All smokers should be able to expect their GP to give them access to stop smoking medication, either by prescribing themselves or by referral to a specialist service.

Key findings:

  • In England, there has been a 75% decline in stop smoking treatments being prescribed by GPs and pharmacists
  • In Wales, the number of treatments dispensed has fallen by two thirds
  • In Scotland there was a 40% decline in the number of treatments prescribed in just two years

This decline in prescriptions greatly outpaces the steady decline in the number of people smoking across Britain.

BLF recommends:

  • The UK government reverses the cuts to public health funding so that specialist stop smoking services can stay open
  • CCGs repeal all guidance to GPs which revokes their right to prescribe stop smoking medication
  • Commissioners of stop smoking services remove any unfair restrictions on which, and how many, approved stop smoking products can be prescribed
  • The Scottish government maintains the levels of government funding for stop smoking services over the next five years
  • Data collection and sharing is improved in Scotland and the annual report on stop smoking data is reinstated
  • NHS Wales collects and shares local health board data on stop smoking prescriptions

blf chart


Responding to the new report by the British Lung Foundation, Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH said:

While it is true that smokers can buy nicotine patches and gum from shops, evidence shows these medicines work most effectively when prescribed. The shocking drop in prescriptions as a cost saving tactic by commissioners is a false economy of the cruellest kind; undermining smokers trying to quit to save small sums now while increasing the chance they will develop a costly illness in the long-run. As the Royal College of Physicians have recently called for, and the Chief Executive of NHS England has supported, we must embed tobacco dependency treatment across the whole of the NHS.’

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England said in evidence to the Health Select Committee on 2 July 2018:

It is pretty clear that we will have to keep pushing harder on smoking and smoking cessation is part of that. That cannot all be done through local authority commissioned services; we are going to have to look at whether the NHS can embed smoking cessation in more of the routine contacts that we have with vulnerable groups who are still smoking. ASH and the Royal College of Physicians have put out an important set of proposals in the last 10 days, which we will take a very careful look at.’

This story was also featured in yesterday’s Observer newspaper and follows on from the recent report ‘Hiding in plain sight: Treating tobacco dependency in the NHS’ – a report from RCP. Read more here

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