Consultants at one hospital have announced that they will refuse to accept GP referrals of patients who smoke.
Vascular surgeons from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary have defended their right to demand that patients stop smoking before accessing certain kinds of treatment.
The hospital, part of NHS Lothian, has argued that medical intervention for vascular disease could be avoided altogether if patients stopped smoking and adapted to healthier lifestyles.
Mr Zahid Reza, a consultant vascular surgeon at ERI, said that his clinic was refusing to accept GP referrals for patients who continued to smoke, unless it was an emergency.
He told the Scotsman: ‘Evidence shows that they would not do well with the treatment. In around 80% of cases, a smoker’s condition will improve just simply by stopping smoking and making other lifestyle changes.
‘Some patients have written to their MP demanding to see a consultant. I have written back to the MP to explain our position.’
NHS Lothian have denied the existence of a ‘blanket ban’ on refusing referrals, saying that each patient is treated on a case-by-case basis. However, Dr David Farquharson, medical director at NHS Lothian, said that some kinds of surgery had a lower chance of success, and that the chances of complications arising during surgery were higher for patients who smoke.
He said: ‘The best option can actually be to refer a patient into smoking cessation, fitness and diet intervention programmes to help them change their lifestyle, which will in turn improve their condition and if necessary the outcome of any medical intervention.’
But patient groups have attacked the decision, describing it as ‘shocking’.
Dr Jean Turner, a former GP who heads up the Scotland Patients Association, said that she was ‘extremely disappointed’.
She added: ‘You should not refuse to see anybody and certainly not penalise patients who are smoking. It is very God-like and highly unfair to refuse to see people referred from general practitioners.
‘If I was a GP I would be very angry. It’s not for a doctor to make a judgment. Doctors are there to see if they can help and relieve symptoms.’
A Scottish Government health spokeswoman said that a blanket ban on surgery for smokers was ‘not acceptable’ and denied that either the Government or NHS Lothian had proposed such a ban.
She added: ‘Smoking is never good for you. Patients who continue to smoke need to think very carefully about the increased risks involved, if surgery is being considered as a treatment option.’