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Thousands quit smoking using NHS service
21st August 2013 - Increasing numbers of smokers in England have been helped to kick the habit due to NHS 'stop smoking services', says a report in BMJ Open.
The study found that these services have successfully reached the more disadvantaged in society but that results have been patchy across the country.
The study looked at how well the services performed in the decade since they were established in 1998. They were designed to ensure that every smoker who wanted to quit would get support as well as medication if needed. This strategy was set out in a white paper, entitled 'Smoking Kills' which outlined a number of strategies to reduce the huge toll of death and disease in the country caused by smoking.
The benchmark, based on previous evidence, is that when these services are offered, half those using them should be equipped to give up for 4 weeks, with 15% lasting a year. This compares with 15% lasting 4 weeks and less than 5% stopping smoking for 12 months when stop smoking services are not used.
A team from University College London set out to test the performance of the service over the period between 2001 and 2011.
They found that increasing numbers of smokers used the services on offer. In the first year, 227,335 people joined up, but this had risen to 787,527 in the last year analysed.
However, the percentage of four week quitters declined slightly from 35% to 34%, with a dip to 31% in 2007 to 2008. Nevertheless, this still meant that, overall, the total number of four week quitters rose from 79,767 to 269,293.
In terms of smokers who have given up for a full 12 months - a goal seen as the gold standard for success - 21,723 are estimated to have ditched the habit in the year 2010 to 2011.
The authors say that services were also successful in reaching disadvantaged smokers, with 54% receiving free prescriptions for stop smoking medication in 2010 to 2011. However, substantial variation existed across local services in throughput, success rates, and impact, they say, which need further investigation.
During 2010 to 2011 the stop smoking services in England were used by around 8% of all smokers and can be estimated to have helped more than 20,000 to achieve long term abstinence, the researchers conclude.
'A real success story'
Professor Robert West, from University College London, who led the research, says in a statement "England’s stop smoking services have led the world and saved lives more cost-effectively than just about any other area of the NHS - a real success story. However, there is clearly room for improvement and a need to bring the poorer performing services up to standard."
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s head of tobacco policy, adds in a statement: "Tobacco is a lethal product that kills half of all long-term smokers, so helping smokers to quit is an incredibly important job. The quality of the services are world leading and this research shows just how successful they’ve been."