Prescriptions for stop smoking aids have plummeted, says report

Cancer Research UK

The number of GP prescriptions for stop smoking aids in England has fallen by 75% in the last decade, according to new figures.  

A report by the British Lung foundation found that the number of stop smoking aids prescribed by GPs in England fell by 75% between 2005 and 2017, while Scotland saw a 40% fall in the same period. In Wales, the number of stop smoking products dispensed in 2016/17 fell to just a third of the number of prescriptions in 2007/8. 

The report analysed NHS prescribing data published by NHS Digital, NHS Wales and the Information Services Division in Scotland. 

It found large regional variation in prescription numbers across England. This is due to differences in the local NHS budgets set by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). It also highlights instances of CCGs producing guidance for GPs asking them not to prescribe stop smoking aids to smokers.

Cancer Research UK’s senior cancer prevention manager, George Butterworth, said it’s vital that smokers can access prescriptions from their GP, wherever they are. 

Biggest preventable cause of cancer

Smoking is still the biggest preventable cause of cancer, responsible for more than 54,000 cases of cancer a year in the UK. 

"GPs must be supported to help patients who smoke to quit. CCGs need to remove restrictions that prevent GPs from prescribing these important medications. And they must make sure GPs get the appropriate training," said Butterworth. 

“Smokers across the country should also be able to access Stop Smoking Services, which give them the best chances of quitting. Cuts to the Public Health Grant have meant that many of these services have been slashed. The Government must reverse these cuts to ensure these important services can stay open.”

Smokers who use Stop Smoking Services are three times more likely to quit than if they tried to quit alone.

Long-term implications  

Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, said that people who smoke are likely to be high users of NHS services and the cuts 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.”

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.”