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Smoking cessation specialist nurses facing council funding cuts

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Six in 10 local authorities have cut spending on stop smoking services in the last year with many getting rid of specialist advice, according to a new report.

The joint report by charities Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK – based on information from 129 councils – shows 59% have reduced smoking cessation budgets for 2016-17.

“Smaller budgets aren’t just numbers on a balance-sheet – they can have devastating impacts”

Alison Cox

The number of local authorities cutting funding has risen from around four in – 39% – in 2015-16.

Meanwhile, the research shows 20% of councils have replaced specialist smoking services – staffed by professionals including nurses – with those offering more general lifestyle advice.

This is despite the fact specialist services have been shown to be effective, with people who get expert help around three times more likely to quit.

In 5% of authorities there is no longer a smoking cessation service beyond advice offered by GPs and pharmacists, the research found.

It also found some parts of the NHS were more engaged in efforts to tackle smoking than others, with relationships between public health departments in councils and both hospital and GP services not as strong as they should be.

Overall, 88% of local authority tobacco control leads surveyed for the report said they had productive relationships with maternity services, while 70% said they had productive relationships with mental health services.

However, only 52% reported productive relationships with acute services. Although 68% said relationships with GP practices were productive, the report said improvement was still needed.

“Relationships with GPs and clinical commissioning groups are not as strong as their potential contributions to tobacco control warrant and are seen to be unproductive in a minority of local authorities,” it said. It called for “opportunities to tackle smoking within the NHS” to be maximised.

“Clinical commissioning groups and NHS trusts should work closely with local authorities to ensure that smokers who engage with the NHS for any reason always have an offer of specialist support to quit,” said the report.

Meanwhile, it stated that local smoking cessation services should meet guidelines and standards set by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

“This principle is being slowly eroded as local authorities struggle to make savings in their public health budgets,” said the report.

“Yet it is these guidelines and standards that provide assurance that public investment, however reduced, delivers real outcomes for smokers,” it added.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said helping smokers to quit not only saved lives but also saved the NHS money.

“Smaller budgets aren’t just numbers on a balance-sheet – they can have devastating impacts on people’s lives,” she said.

“It’s vital to help smokers quit by ensuring that the most effective route – through specialist stop smoking support – receives continued investment,” she added.

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