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Quit targets stymie long-term support, say smoking advisers

By Nigel Praities

Stop smoking services find it difficult to support smokers to quit long-term because of strict Government four-week targets, researchers claim.

Their research into the support for quitters found four-week targets were a ‘substantial barrier' to supporting those relapsing after four weeks.

Three-quarters of quitters relapse, with research showing carbon monoxide quit rates plummet from 53% at four weeks to 15% at 12-months in stop smoking services.

But stop-smoking services are evaluated on their effectiveness by four-week quit rates and have been told by the Department of Health to aim for 85% in 2009/10.

The University of Nottingham researchers interviewed 16 anonymous health professionals working in stop-smoking services, who said short-term quit targets prevented them from giving relapsed smokers proper support.

‘Current performance targets are a substantial barrier to the introduction of relapse prevention support in the NHS. Even for health professionals who were interested in and willing to provide relapse prevention interventions, the pressure to achieve short-term cessation for smokers often reduced the amount of time and resources that could be devoted to them,' the authors concluded.

Dr Alex Bobak a smoking cessation GPSI in Battersea, south London, agreed quitters tended to be abandoned after four weeks, but said that stop-smoking advisers should also take responsibility for this.

‘The system is based on a four-week quit rate and it is a great disincentive from a business point of view, but NRT and Champix treatment lasts 10 to 12 weeks, so you should be monitoring them over that period,' he said.

The research was published in BMC Health Services Research.

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