Tackling smoking 'could save millions'
The NHS could save huge sums of money by persuading people to give up smoking, according to a report.
The anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says that helping smokers quit is one of the most cost-effective measures the NHS could take.
However, it says that such measures attract a low priority from most health authorities and doctors.
The NHS could save millions of pounds and thousands of lives by placing smoking in the mainstream
Clive Bates, Action on Smoking and Health
The report shows that although smoking cessation expenditure is 12 times as cost-effective as spending on cholesterol lowering drugs, the NHS spends 17 times as much on these drugs as on smoking cessation.
Clive Bates, director of ASH, said the biggest waste of money in the NHS was not bureaucracy or incompetence, but ill-judged decisions about how the health service budget was used to best effect.
He said: "The NHS could save millions of pounds and thousands of lives by placing smoking in the mainstream of its activities and expenditure.
"The acid test of NHS modernisation will be the weight given to preventing illness rather than picking up the pieces after someone is already ill.
"We want Milburn to be tough on disease, and tough on the causes of disease."
50 different diseases
Dr Ann McNeill, co-author of the ASH report, said tackling smoking was effectively treating 50 diseases associated with the habit before they actually happen.
She said: "If the NHS tackles heart disease by prescribing long term medication or through heart surgery, rather than dealing with the most obvious risk factor, it is simply wasting money."
The ASH report recommends:
-action at all levels in the NHS to tackle smoking
all proven drug treatments, including nicotine replacement therapy, to be available on prescription
-clear guidance to health authorities on the economics of smoking cessation
referral to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence of the economics of smoking cessation
-funding by challenging tobacco taxation directly back to the smoker
-clear guidance on prescribing
improved integration of specialist and mainstream services
A Department of Health spokesman said the government had already recognised the importance of helping people to quit smoking.
He said Â£60m had been made available over three years to set up smoking cessation clinics in every health authority area.
Another Â£50m was being pumped into a public education campaign, and an telephone advice line (Tel: 0800 169 0169) had been relaunched to offer smokers expert help direct from a counsellor.
"We take smoking cessation very seriously, and we feel we are doing more than any other country, certainly in the European Union, to help people give up."