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Efforts to beat cancer hamstrung by cuts to local anti-smoking services

Public health budgets slashed but Government says councils 'know their area best' and can decide priorities

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 05 December 2017 01:26 GMT
Budgets to help smokers quit and enforcing smoke-free zones have fallen by a third since 2013
Budgets to help smokers quit and enforcing smoke-free zones have fallen by a third since 2013 (Getty)

Efforts to prevent unnecessary cancer deaths are being hamstrung by “staggering cuts” to public health which have seen councils slash spending on stop smoking services by one sixth in a year.

Budgets for smoking cessation services and wider tobacco controls fell by £20m this year, from £120.6m in 2016/17 to £99.8m.

This means spending to cut smoking has fallen by a third since councils first took over responsibility for public health four years ago, following the implementation of the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Act 2012.

The Labour analysis shows two thirds of the 152 local authorities in England reduced their spending on smoking cessation this year.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP said the “staggering cuts” undermined the efforts of health professionals and patients across the country who were trying cut smoking rates.

Charities and medical professionals said professionally-led smoking cessation services are more than three times as effective as other methods.

They told The Independent that there were worrying implications for the long-term health of patients, and funding of the NHS as treating smoking-related conditions costs “billions every year”.

Analysis earlier this year showed Theresa May would be presiding over £85m in public health spending cuts this year alone.

But the Department of Health is aiming to cut the adult smoking rate to below 12 per cent by 2022, but it told The Independent that councils “know their area best” and only they could decide how much to spend.

The latest cuts come despite a 2014 ambition from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to deliver a “smoke-free Britain”, and efforts in the NHS to improve early diagnosis by running lung cancer screening in car parks.

In 2017/18 local authorities in England budgeted £89m for professionally-led smoking cessation, and a further £10.8m on “wider tobacco control measures” such as enforcing on tobacco sales and rolling out smoke-free zones.

This compares to £105m and £15.6m in the year before.

Impact of smoking on lungs

Funding has fallen by more than £50m since 2013/14 when councils spent a combined total of £158.4m on stopping and tobacco control services.

Mr Ashworth will be speaking at a Britain Against Cancer event on Tuesday afternoon, and he said of the cuts: “Across the country health professionals and local communities are working hard to combat the long term effects of smoking but their efforts are being undermined by a Government who are making unacceptable cuts to public health.

“The truth is that the Government’s staggering cuts are dismantling our public health system and removing the support that people need to quit smoking for the good of their health and their families.”

George Butterworth from Cancer Research UK said the Government could generate money for smoking services by making tobacco companies pay more, he added: “Stop Smoking Services are the most effective way for smokers to quit and ultimately save money for councils and the NHS by reducing demand on other services caused through ill health.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs said: “We would certainly question the rationale behind deliberately cutting funding for smoking cessation services when they have shown to be highly effective and cost-effective interventions.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We are absolutely committed to reducing the harm caused by tobacco, and thanks to our tough action smoking rates are at their lowest ever level. In July we updated our Tobacco Control Plan to build on this success, which aims to drive down rates even further as we work towards the first ever smoke-free generation.

"Local areas know their communities best, so decisions on public health services rest with them—and over the current spending period we will invest more than £16 billion to help them deliver these.”

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