William Eichler 15 January 2018

Public health cuts undermine support for smokers

Cuts in public health grants have led to a ‘dramatic’ change in local services aimed at helping people quit smoking, according to anti-smoking campaigners.

A report by Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has revealed only 61% of councils continue to offer all local smokers access to evidence-based support in line with national health guidance.

The charities surveyed local authorities across England and found there were year-on-year budget cuts to stop smoking services, with one council reporting they had no budget for addressing smoking.

The Government said last month it would be investing more than £16bn in public health over the five years of the 2015 Spending Review, including £3.215bn in 2018/19.

However, the Local Government Association (LGA) said this represented a cut of £531m between 2015/16 and 2019/20.

According to the charities’ findings, one in nine areas report that GPs are no longer prescribing nicotine replacement therapy to smokers, such as patches or gum, the survey found.

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

‘National decisions to cut public health funding are having an impact on the ground,’ George Butterworth, Senior Policy Manager, Cancer Research UK.

‘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.’

Commenting on the report, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘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 have long argued that this is a short-term approach which will only increase acute pressures for NHS services further down the line.’

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