Local authorities must stop stripping back NHS Stop Smoking services in GP practices, a leading expert on smoking cessation has warned.
Professor Robert West, professor of health psychology at University College London and leading researcher on addiction, said national trends indicate public health commissioners are disinvesting in the services and this could continue as public spending cuts bite further.
Speaking at the UK Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Conference in Manchester, Professor West warned this would be counter-productive and could end up costing local authorities more – even in the relatively short term.
Official figures showed there was a 20% drop in the number of people going through NHS Stop Smoking services, and the number successfully quitting smoking, last year compared with 2012/13.
This was the second consecutive year that the figures had gone down – after a general upward trend up to 2011.
Professor West told Pulse that the ‘worrying’ decline could continue as local councils face even tighter budget restrictions.
Professor West said: ‘The worrying national trend is that extremely hard-pressed local authorities are having to make impossible choices… and that’s going to get worse over the next few years.’
He urged local government commissioners to look at evidence which showed that providing quality stop smoking support is cost-saving, even in the short term.
Professor West said: ‘If you cut the amount you spend per treated smoker below a certain level, they are not going to get enough support to make it worth it at all. However, if you do it properly you can get the money back in terms of resources recovered within the first couple of years – so it does lead to reductions in GP attendances by smokers and in unplanned admissions, and a reduction in medication budgets.’
He added: ‘It also provides savings within a couple of years for the local economy because of days off work.’