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Stop smoking services under threat from budget cuts

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Smoking is one of the largest drains on funds Smoking is one of the largest drains on NHS and Social Care funds

Cuts to public health budgets are leaving some CCGs unable to fund smoking cessation in general practice, a report by Action on Smoking and Health has found.

The charity is currently sending out Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to every CCG in England to determine which areas have restricted funding for GP prescriptions to patients seeking to stop smoking and compare those alongside the local authorities that are also reducing funding.

Of those that have responded so far, Wyre Forest CCG, South Worcestershire CCG, Redditch and Bromsgrove CCG, East Kent Prescribing Group have requested that 'no prescriptions for nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion or varenicline should be written for new patients from 1 April 2016'.

Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead CCG has restricted prescrptions for all patients bar three groups: pregnant smokers, smokers with mental health issues and young people. Similarly, NHS Vale of York CCG has written to all practices in the City of York boundary to ensure that referrals to stop smoking services are only made for pregnant women, pre-operative patients, and patients with serious respiratory disease or cancer.

‘We know that most local authorities remain committed to reducing smoking but key services are under threat from public health funding cuts,’ said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health. ‘In some areas this is being made worse by a lack of engagement from NHS partners. Local and national action is urgently needed to ensure the continuity of support to help smokers quit.’

According to the report, smoking is also severely affecting the already overstretched social care sector, adding a total of £1.4 billion to the annual bill. 'Evidence presented to the APPG on Smoking and Health shows that smoking is contributing to the current social care crisis. The situation will worsen if funding to local stop smoking services continues to be cut,’ said Bob Blackman MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health.

There have been renewed calls for the government to publish its tobacco control plan, which has now been delayed for a year. According to Ms Arnott, political upheaval in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, including changes to health ministers, have caused these delays.

‘The new Tobacco Control Plan for England, published without further delay, will be crucial to ensuring that Government, the NHS and local Councils work together effectively to continue to tackle the harm caused by smoking,’ said Mr Blackman.

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