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GPs are missing a 'major public health opportunity' to prevent smoking-related disease, a new study suggests.

The research found just 6.4 per cent of smokers were being prescribed smoking cessation treatment by their GP ­ with those free of co-morbidities particularly likely to miss out.

The researchers, who carried out the study before new GMS, said unpublished data they had collected since the contract showed the number of CHD patients given smoking cessation advice had increased dramatically. But they warned that smokers without co-morbidity might continue to be neglected.

Study leader Dr Andrew Wilson, a reader in general practice at the University of Leicester and a GP in the city, called for quality points for recording smoking and prescribing smoking cessation treatments in all patients. 'Given that advice about stopping smoking is one of the most cost-effective things GPs can do it makes sense to incentivise it,' he said.

The study of 29,492 smokers from 39 practices found that over 80 per cent of untreated smokers had consulted their GP during the two-year study period, with over a quarter consulting more than 10 times.

This indicated that there were 'missed opportunities

for prescribing smoking cessation treatments', it concluded.

The research, published in Tobacco Control (August), found smokers with co-morbidity were significantly more likely to receive smoking cessation treatment than those without.

Dr Wilson said the QOF had improved matters but patients not covered by the framework could still be losing out.

'I think GPs are reluctant

to offer advice if the patient

is not coming with a smok-ing-related problem,' he said.

Study co-author Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox, professor of clinical epidemiology and general practice at the University of Nottingham, said latest data from 469 practices showed the number of CHD patients in whom smoking was recorded had gone up from 56 per cent in January 2002 to 92 per cent by December 2004 ­ and the proportion given smoking cessation advice had risen from 67 to 93 per cent.

By Nerys Hairon

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