Smokers face ‘discrimination’ as charity reports 75% decline cessation aids being prescribed

Patients who smoke are being “discriminated against” with a 75% decline in stop smoking aids being prescribed by GPs and pharmacists in England, according to analysis by a charity.

The British Lung Foundation claims Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are “prioritising saving money over saving lives and flouting the basic principles of the NHS” by cutting back on quitting services and treatment.

But it said that as people who smoke are likely to be frequent users of NHS services, it will eventually lead to a greater burden and any savings will only be in the short term.

It found that in England there was a 75% decline in the number of stop smoking aids dispensed in 2016/17 compared with 2005/6, while Scotland saw a 40% fall during the period.

In Wales, the number of all stop smoking products dispensed in 2016/17 fell to just a third compared to 2007/8.

The charity said that regional variation of CCG prescribing is huge, with many areas where prescriptions are extremely low at the same time as having high levels of smokers.

It found the local authority in Worcestershire fully decommissioned its stop smoking services in April 2016, and neighbouring CCGs then advised that no prescriptions for nicotine patches, gum, lozenges and sprays should be written for new patients.

The impact of decommissioning services and advising GPs not to prescribe stop smoking aids is that the number of items prescribed through primary care in each CCG has plummeted in the area.

It said for patients in York, services are only open to those who are in a priority group and GPs have been asked to not prescribe due to cost.

Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, said all smokers should be able to expect their GP to provide access to stop smoking medication, either by prescribing themselves or by referral to a specialist service.

She added: “People who smoke are likely to be high users of NHS services.

“Decommissioning the prescribing of stop smoking aids will only achieve short-term savings.

“Worryingly, it will shore up a greater burden on the NHS in the long run in terms of hospital admissions and the impact on already stretched A&E services. The decisions are foolhardy and must be reversed.

“It’s obvious cost pressures in local authorities are due to cuts from central Government and the main reason these vital services are vanishing.

“Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidance is clear that all smokers should have access to specialist services where they can receive clinically-effective support based on their own needs and preferences.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “There are now fewer smokers in this country than ever before thanks to our bold and effective plans, including standardising packaging for cigarettes and covering up tobacco products in shops.

“However 78,000 people still die from smoking in England each year, which is why we recently launched a new Tobacco Control Plan and will give councils £16 billion to provide public health services for their communities.”

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