The number of people accessing NHS Stop Smoking Services fell for the fifth consecutive year in 2016/17.
NHS Digital’s annual smoking cessation report said there was a 15% drop in the number of patients setting a quit date, to 307,507, compared with the previous year.
But the report added that the ‘reduction in recent years may be partly due to the increased use of e-cigarettes, which are widely available outside of these services’.
A study published last year in the BMJ found that e-cigarettes may have helped 18,000 people in England in give up smoking in 2015.
The number of people who successfully quit smoking with the help of NHS services also declined, by 16%, to 155,875.
This meant the self-reported quit rate remained stable at around 51% of service users, the report added.
A higher number of females set a quit date (163,121) than males (144,386) but males had a marginally higher self-reported quit rate than females (52% and 49% respectively).
London had the highest number of quit attempts (51,945) and Yorkshire and the Humber had the lowest (23,124). But Yorkshire and Humber had the highest quit rates (61%), while the lowest quit rates were found in the North East (46%), North West (46%) and South West (45%).
The Net Ingredient Cost of all prescription items used to help people quit smoking was £28.5m in 2016/17 – less than half of the total in 2010/11 when the NIC of all items peaked at £65.9m, the report added.
Professor Robert West, professor of health psychology and director of tobacco studies at University College London, said that although numbers were going down ‘most local authorities are still investing in stop smoking services, which provide incredibly good value as a life-saving treatment’.
But Dr John Ashcroft, a GP in Derbyshire and a promoter of e-cigarettes, said the latest statistics were ‘pretty appalling, but not exactly unexpected’.
He added: ‘Since “prevention” went over to the councils funding has been cut and CCGs, though they are supposed to share responsibilities, have sat on their hands and done nothing… On a positive note millions of people are quitting smoking by changing to vapourisers, probably the biggest health gain of our time.’
NHS Stop Smoking Services were set up in 1999/2000 with the aim of improving local population health and reducing health inequalities but have seen a decline in uptake since 2011/12.