NHS 'can give lower priority to smokers'

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UNREPENTANT smokers can be sent to the bottom of NHS waiting lists, a minister said on World No Smoking Day yesterday. Baroness Cumberlege, Under-Secretary of State for Health, said if doctors withheld treatment from patients who ignored advice to stop smoking, the Government would not object.

'We really do feel that it is up to clinicians to exercise their clinical judgment,' she told BBC Radio's Today programme.

'If they feel that people they are treating are less likely to recover than other people on the waiting list, then that must be a judgement for them.'

Consultants at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester and Groby Road Hospital, Leicester last week disclosed that they refused to carry out non-urgent heart bypass surgery on heavy smokers, and believed other doctors did the same.

Lady Cumberlege backed the assertion by Dr Brian Mawhinney, Minister of Health, that achieving a virtually smoke-free NHS was a 'tremendous stride'. The Government's ultimate aim was to make Britain a smoke-free zone.

She said later: 'Clinicians have always had to make difficult judgements when setting clinical priorities.

'Smoking is just one of a number of factors which they would consider.'