Budget cuts 'mean GPs in some areas cannot prescribe stop smoking medications'

Cuts to the public health budget mean smokers in many areas can no longer access stop smoking medications from their GP, health experts have warned.

There is now at least one local authority in England where there is a zero budget for addressing smoking, a report by Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said.

They said they are "deeply concerned" that disadvantaged smokers are being hit hardest after finding only about three in five (61%) local authorities continue to offer all smokers access to evidence-based support in line with guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

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Their survey of local authorities across England also found one in nine areas report that GPs are no longer prescribing nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches or gum, to smokers.

One in 10 GPs also do not provide access to varenicline, an effective prescription-only medication that helps smokers to quit.

Ash, Cancer Research UK and other health organisations have long argued the tobacco industry should be forced to pay to address the harm smoking causes and it is estimated tobacco companies in the UK make a collective profit of about £1 billion a year.

The report suggests tobacco companies should be made to pay a levy based on the "polluter pays principle", which would cover the costs of providing stop smoking services.

Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said: "Thousands of people every year die from smoking with many more living with disabilities and disease.

"Shrinking public health budgets make it tougher to provide smokers with quit services while tobacco companies pocket a billion in profit every year in the UK.

"The Government should place a levy on the industry to fund the support smokers need."

Cancer Research UK senior policy manager George Butterworth said: "National decisions to cut public health funding are having an impact on the ground.

"A growing number of local areas no longer have treatment available for all smokers that meets the necessary standards.

"On top of this, smokers in many areas can no longer access stop smoking medications from GPs.

"We are deeply concerned that the erosion in support will hit disadvantaged smokers hardest.

"We urge government at every level to ensure smokers have the support they need to stop smoking."

Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the Local Government Association's (LGA) community wellbeing board, said: "Councils, which are responsible for public health, have had a significant impact on helping people quit smoking through a range of evidence-based, best practice programmes.

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"However, with one in five still smoking, there is a lot more to be done.

"Councils' efforts to continue to help people quit smoking are being hindered by the Government's reductions to their public health budget, which councils use to fund stop smoking services.

"We urge Ash and Cancer Research UK to join our call for reductions in councils' public health budgets to be reversed so stop smoking services can be offered to all those who need them, and to avoid greater pressure from being placed on already overstretched local services."

Public Health England (PHE) chief executive Duncan Selbie said: "Smoking is the number one killer in the UK and stop smoking services are the most effective way to help smokers quit.

"They are a 'best buy' for improving the public's health and should be available in every local authority."