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GPs need training to help patients to quit smoking

Smoking is an addiction and it is incredibly tough for people to quit. But with the right support from doctors, nurses and pharmacists, you are much more likely to quit smoking for good. Rachael, from our policy team, explains why we want all health care professionals trained to provide that help.

We’ve published new research on how many GPs around the UK are trained to provide a specific type of support called Very Brief Advice, known as VBA. We found that not nearly enough GPs have the right amount of training to be using VBA with their patients.

What is VBA?

If your doctor or nurse has asked you whether you smoke before, they may have actually been using VBA.

VBA is simply 3 questions about smoking which all health care professionals should use. It involves asking people whether they smoke, or if they’ve managed to stay off cigarettes if they’ve recently quit, giving advice about the best ways to quit, and then offering support to stop for people who are ready.

VBA is helpful because it makes sure that smoking is discussed. Most people who smoke want to stop, but have either failed in the past and don’t think they can do it, or don’t feel like they’re ready. VBA makes sure that everyone knows help is available through their doctor when they want it. And it provides health care professionals with an easy framework for what can otherwise be a difficult conversation.

I tell them I’ll be there for them when they need support. If one day they want to give up, I let them know I will be there for that journey.

Sheila, who works in a GP practice in Manchester

Everyone who smokes deserves to get help to stop. The best way to quit is through a combination of treatment, such as patches or prescribed medication, and counselling support from a trained professional. Your doctor can make sure you get access to these.

What did our research find?

We conducted a survey of over 1,000 GPs across the UK to ask them about the training they’ve had in VBA. We found that over half of GPs in the UK have never had any training in VBA. And just 2% of GPs told us that they have had comprehensive training in it.

This means that there are huge numbers of people who smoke under the care of a GP who doesn’t have the right training in talking to them about smoking.

We’re worried that people who would otherwise be getting support from their doctors are instead being left to quit cold turkey, or stay as smokers.

What are we going to do next?

Our ambition is for everyone who works in GP surgeries, pharmacies and dentists to have training in VBA.

There has been, and continues to be, a huge effort to reduce smoking across the country. But there are still 6.9 million people in the UK who smoke. Smoking is a cause of some lung conditions and can make other respiratory symptoms worse, so it’s really important for our lung health that people are helped to stop.

During the spring of 2020 we know people’s motivation for quitting increased as a result of the covid pandemic, with around half of all smokers with lung disease planning to quit to protect themselves. People are still looking to quit smoking and we’re urging for everyone to be trained and ready to support them.

We’re going to use our research findings to speak to policy makers and make sure that as the NHS recovers from the pandemic, more staff in GP practices can get the training they need. We need the NHS to treat smoking like it does all other life-threatening conditions, and ensure it’s doing all it can to treat patients.

Read our full report here

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7 January 2021