NHS services to help smokers quit are under threat

November 15, 2001

Editorial: National smoking cessation services at risk BMJ Volume 323, pp 1140-41

NHS smoking cessation services are one of the most cost effective interventions in the NHS today, yet these services are now under threat because of the government's failure to confirm their future funding, write Martin Raw and colleagues in this week's BMJ.

In England between April 2000 and March 2001 about 127,000 smokers set a quit date and 48% of these stopped at one month. Such achievements mean that treating tobacco dependence will release resources for other uses, and relatively quickly, say the authors. For example, the risk of heart attack or stroke falls by around a half within the first two years after stopping smoking, and the potential savings to the drugs bill if more smokers stop is considerable.

However, the ring fenced funding for these services will end in March 2002 and there is a real prospect of these services closing down, warn the authors.

To prevent this happening, primary care trusts need to establish a 2002-3 budget for these services. Some have already done so, but for many smoking is simply not a high priority. It is not enough for the government to assume that funding will continue because targets have been set, they add.

"The world has been watching this progressive experiment in the United Kingdom with interest and, in many quarters, admiration. It would be scandalous if this admiration was to turn to mockery as three years of investment, innovation, and achievement were thrown away," they conclude.


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