The UK prides itself on its forward thinking and evidenced based approach to tobacco harm reduction, but the reality is that we are falling short of expectations when it comes to delivering actual support to those who need it.
Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “Tobacco dependency is an illness and it remains the largest preventable cause of death in the UK. The impact it has on individuals, families and communities remains devastating, and yet the majority of the 6.9 million people who smoke do not get the help and support they need to quit for good. This report shows that whilst the bare minimum of smoking cessation support for patients is rarely prioritised in primary care, there is opportunity and appetite to change this.”
The research revolved around Very Brief Advice (VBA), which is a 30-second intervention that should be delivered by all healthcare professionals in almost every consultation with a patient who smokes. VBA is recommended by NICE as an evidence- based and cost-effective intervention which all frontline practitioners should receive training in
The report states that more than half of GPs in the UK say they have never had any VBA training for smoking cessation. Just 2% of GPs reported that they’d had comprehensive VBA training. The BLF says this means less than 1,000 GPs in the UK have had comprehensive intervention training, which means there are up to 6.7 million patients who smoke under the care of GPs who don’t have a comprehensive understanding of Very Brief Advice.
The Foundation says that, at a very minimum:
- VBA training should be compulsory for all frontline staff in general practice
- The numbers of people having VBA training should be collected across primary care. The data should be public so it can be assessed how well we’re improving
- Specialist stop smoking services should be fully funded, and GPs must be able to make referrals to the services
Sarah Woolnough concludes: “We still face the real possibility that as progress is made in some areas, groups of people will be left behind. Smoking is still four times higher in our most deprived communities, many of whom will be reeling from the impact of COVID-19. Following this stressful year people need to know that they don’t need to quit alone.
“As we work towards becoming smokefree across the UK, we cannot leave anybody behind. People who smoke are in virtual GP consultations, picking up medication from their local pharmacies, and getting their vaccinations. I urge the NHS to treat tobacco dependency like it does all other life-threatening conditions, and ensure it’s doing all it can to effectively treat patients.”
- A breath of fresh air: Research into the training needs of UK GPs on Very Brief Advice for smoking cessation – [link]