GPs told not to prescribe nicotine nasal spray

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The Independent Online
FAMILY doctors are being told not to prescribe a new nicotine nasal spray, designed to help people stop smoking. If doctors do prescribe it, patients may have to pay for it themselves.

Although the spray, launched last month, has not been put on the National Health Service drugs blacklist which bars doctors from prescribing it, family health service authorities, which administer local drugs bills, are formulating their own policies. Hertfordshire Health Agency has led the way with a letter to all its GPs. It says the product 'does not seem to us to be an appropriate use of scarce NHS resources'.

The agency says the manufacturers suggested that it came to a decision about the Nicorette Nasal Spray. It is also anticipating a likely blacklisting of the product by the Department of Health which has already decided that nicotine chewing gum - available over the counter - and nicotine patches - available only on private prescription - should not be prescribed on the NHS.

This is in line with increasing attempts to reduce the escalating NHS drugs bill of pounds 3.6bn.

A spokesman for the department said: 'Ministers are considering its future in the light of previous decisions on nicotine replacement therapy. If people can afford to smoke, then it should not be an NHS expense.'

The product costs pounds 16.49 for 100 doses in each nostril. Research found that people trying to give up used it about 13 times a day. The letter from the health agency points out that 'up to 74 per cent' of smokers who stopped resumed within a year, but doctors active in smoking-cessation programmes say it still has a useful role.

'Getting any smoker to give up is extremely difficult because nicotine is a highly addictive drug. Anything that helps 26 per cent of smokers withdraw from the habit is very useful. If a drug was found to be successful in helping a quarter of heroin addicts to kick their addiction would be hailed as a miracle,' Dr Michael Ingram, a GP in Radlett, Hertfordshire, said.