Smoke Across the Water

While many people in the US are frustrated with healthcare reforms, SRxA’s Word on Health has learned that the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere.

This week, doctors in the UK have been told to stop referring smokers for any routine elective surgery unless their patients quit or complete a government run Stop Smoking course.

The controversial plans, which have already provoked anger among Family Practitioners, have been tabled as part of a draconian package of cost-cutting measures.

Other tactics include extending waiting times for surgery and a halt to all consultant-to-consultant referrals for the rest of the financial year unless clinically urgent.

Family doctors are also being asked to play a greater role in stopping their patients from going to the ER in order to drive down costs.

In a letter sent to all General Practitioners in the South West of England, the National Health Service (NHS) said: ‘There is good evidence to show that stopping smoking prior to surgery reduces length of stay and infection rates, and improves healing time; it is also a time when people are often highly motivated to give up. All patients who smoke and are booked for planned surgery will therefore be required to complete a NHS Stop Smoking course prior to surgery. Going forward, all patients requiring planned surgery should be referred to a NHS Stop Smoking Service before being added to the waiting list. A ‘Non Smoker’ status OR completion of the program is the threshold for surgical referral.’

Opponents of the scheme argue that this will only make waiting lists longer and denies smokers their basic human rights.

Word on Health would love to hear your views on this. Should patients be forced to give up smoking in order to have surgery?  Should smokers pay higher health insurance premiums because they consume higher amounts of healthcare costs?

Have your say now.

2 thoughts on “Smoke Across the Water

  1. My question is how would the British government enforce such a policy? The state-run Stop Smoking course I understand, but how are they going to make sure that a person who elects to quit has actually quit after the surgery? And what are they going to do if they find out he is smoking again?

    Smokers should just be forced pay higher premiums for everything (doctor’s visits, surgeries, immunizations, prescriptions–the whole shabang). If they’re going to endanger their health and the health of others, there’s no reason why the government, doctors and insurers can’t milk them for all they’re worth while they’re at it. And if they have a problem with it, QUIT!

  2. If I remember correctly, there’s quite a bit of literature that suggests that smokers cost less than non-smokers, the reason being that smokers tend to die both earlier and faster. This saves large amounts on old age pensions and long term care. (These results are presumably variable across countries). Perhaps the government should instead be encouraging the elderly to take up smoking in the name of fiscal prudence?

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