A fresh call has been made for a nationally commissioned non-referral smoking cessation service through community pharmacies, as the government announces major investment in local schemes.

In the King’s Speech this week, it was revealed that the funding available to local smoking cessation services would ‘more than double’ by next April to £140m, while plans to effectively ban smoking for future generations would also go ahead.

But Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said that in order to avoid a ‘postcode lottery’ for smoking cessation support, the government should commission a national service that builds on the existing advanced service to enable people to access smoking cessation support through non-referral routes.

The government intends to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009.

And £70 million a year has been allocated to local authorities in England to support stop smoking services.

Councillor David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, welcomed the news, and said: ‘The goal of a smokefree generation no longer seems out of reach and we want to work with government and others to achieve this.’

Numerous smoking cessation services across England are currently commissioned through community pharmacies by local councils.

But Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at CPE, told The Pharmacist that ‘local commissioning of such services by councils has been impacted in recent years by reductions in public health budgets’.

He described the increased funding that the government has committed to as ‘good news’ and suggested ‘it should be used to increase the locally commissioned stop smoking support that community pharmacies provide’.

Though he added: ‘If the government wants to avoid creating a postcode lottery for vital public health services such as this, we would strongly recommend the commissioning of a national service from pharmacies, building on the existing limited advanced service.’

A national advanced service, which pharmacies can opt-in to provide, does exist, but only supports smokers who have been referred to the service.

But CPE would like to see it expanded to include all smokers, enabling people to walk in to their local pharmacy and access support.

Mr Buxton pointed to the recently published Vision for Community Pharmacy, which recommends ‘widening the scope of the NHS Smoking Cessation Service to cover all smokers – rather than just those referred by NHS Trusts – as well as users of vapes’.

‘This is envisioned as part of a package of public health services helping position pharmacies as local health and wellbeing hubs,’ said Mr Buxton.

The new funding allocated to local authorities by the government can be used for training for healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, ‘to extend the reach of stop smoking interventions’.

It may also be used to provide access to advisers in locations where smokers routinely attend, ‘such as GP surgeries, mental health services and employers’.

And it could be used to fund stop smoking aids that are recommended by the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT) and the National Institute for Health and Care (NICE) guideline NG209.

It might also be used for ‘digital and remote support’, ‘establishing a physical presence in prominent locations’, and ‘conducting targeted outreach efforts, especially for local priority populations’, the government said.

The government also told local authorities to ‘improve their referral pathways and increase the number of referrals into local stop smoking services and support’.

And it said that it was hoping for increased referrals from other partners, including primary care providers.

National anti-smoking campaigns will also be funded with an additional £5m this year and £15m a year  between2024/25-2028/29, which will explain the legislative changes, the benefits of quitting and the support available.

According to the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the extra funding for smoking cessation will support around 360,000 people a year to set a quit date.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the move as ‘the biggest single public health intervention in a generation’, that would save ‘tens of thousands of lives’ and save the NHS ‘billions of pounds’.

Meanwhile, over 12,000 responses have already been received as part of the government’s consultation on plans to create a smokefree generation and implement tighter controls on youth vaping.

Chief medical officer for England Professor Sir Chris Whitty said that the response to the consultation ‘shows people care strongly about this issue’.

‘If passed, the bill will help ensure the next generation is smoke free and the additional funding will help current smokers stop, preventing major future harm,’ he added.

Responding to the King’s Speech, former pharmacy minister and chair of the health and social care committee Steve Brine said that he welcomed ‘the introduction of legislation to create a smoke-free generation by restricting the sale of tobacco, and to safeguard children from the harmful effects of vaping by restrictions on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes’.

But he expressed disappointment that the government had not brought forward legislation to overhaul the Mental Health Act as part of the speech.

‘The draft Bill, among its planned reforms, would outlaw the inappropriate detention of people with learning disabilities and autism,’ he said.

‘Without change, too many people will continue to be held in secure units, often for years at a time. These reforms are long overdue,’ he said.

Also missing from the King’s Speech was the proposed ban on LGBT conversion therapy and legislation to regulate physician associates.

But it did mention ‘plans to cut waiting lists and transform the long-term workforce of the NHS’, including delivering on the NHS workforce plan and minimum service levels ‘to prevent strikes from undermining patient safety’.