The Department of Stealth

The Department of Stealth

Back in January I was contacted by Belinda Cunnison from the freedom2choose organisation, letting me know that they were investigating the NHS claim that you are “four times more likely to succeed” in quitting smoking with the NHS, and wondering if I knew about any published studies that could back up that claim. The thought was that advertising standards may be breached by the slogan.

Since this picks up on a point I made in the Evidence section of this site, and in the book, we decided to pursue it.  In 1992, a report from the University of Iowa looking at different quit methods put the success rate of willpower alone at 6%.  By that standard, “Four times more likely to succeed” would imply that around 24% of smokers using the NHS Smoking Cessation Services would successfully stop smoking, and not just temporarily!

The Bogus Short-Term ‘Success’ Rates

For years, the Department of Health and the NHS have been using a system for measuring success which is frankly laughable – or it would be, if they weren’t using it to justify giving vast sums of taxpayers’ money to the drug companies for Nicotine Replacement Poisoning. If you attend those NHS services, and report not smoking for a period of only four weeks, they will chalk you up as an official success!  This has led to ludicrously high ‘success’ rates being reported and published by the DoH and the NHS as if they were the real story: the document I’ve reproduced on this site dated 9/7/04 credits Kent and Medway SHA with 72% success and South West Kent PCT at 90%!  I accused the Department of Stealth of seriously misleading the public about the effectiveness of those services by doing this, and I stand by that accusation.  Not even a smoking cessation wizard such as myself would claim a 90% success rate, not unless you are screening some clients out before you start!  For the NHS to claim such success rates is preposterous, those people aren’t even therapists, they are merely advisers, counsellors if you like.  Everyone knows they don’t have a success rate of anything like that magnitude.  But does everyone know how truly useless they are?

The Real, Long-Term Quit Rates and The Missing Report

The 2004 document I mentioned above also summarises the ‘findings’ of the one and only DoH-commissioned report into the long-term effectiveness of the NHS Stop Smoking Services.  The study was done by Glasgow University and looked at the outcomes at 52 weeks.  It was originally published in the journal Addiction – where smokers and taxpayers were bound to see it, obviously – and since then it seems to have disappeared without a trace.  Although the document I have reproduced suggests that it can be found by following a link at the end of the article, in fact there is no such link.

In the DoH summary, it is claimed that “15% remain quit at 52 weeks”, which sounds like a 15% success rate, doesn’t it? Yet in the book I quote a number of independent studies which find that the real outcomes of smokers using Nicotine Replacement products is somewhere between 5% and 8%.  On this site and in the book I point to the word “remain” as the suspicious factor here.

Across the U.K., the short-term NHS quit rate (based on self-report at four weeks) averages out at 55%.  So if you take 15% of those people – not 15% of the total treated – you get back to the equivalent of 8% long-term quitters for the entire number of smokers using the NHS Service.  But 8% doesn’t sound very good, does it?  Especially if willpower achieves 6% anyway!  It begins to look like abject failure and a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money, doesn’t it?  Just like I said in the book, in fact.

So I’ve raised the question: Have the Department of Health sneakily used the term: “15% remain quit” to suggest 15% of the people using the services, when it really means only 15% of those who reported success at  four weeks, which is only 8% in reality?

We have decided to find out for sure.  Belinda got on to the Department of Health and asked them why there was no link to this crucial report on their website, and could they kindly send us a copy of it?  She also advised them that she was trying to ascertain whether or not it was true that smokers are four times more likely to quit with the NHS.  On 3rd February she received an email from Barry Davis at the DoH, apologising for the fact that the link was not on their website and promising to get that corrected.  Then he added that he had provided the link in the attachment to the email.

Hang on, though! There was no attachment!

So Belinda got back to him again, explaining that there was no attachment.  “Oh silly me,” said Barry, or words to that effect, “here is a copy of the document you requested.  Hope everything is now okay”.   So she read it, but it didn’t seem to say anything about long-term quit rates.  She asked Barry about that, and forwarded a copy to me.  I read it carefully.

It was the wrong report entirely!

So Belinda has pointed out to Barry that this report, lovely though it is, plainly says nothing about the long-term results of the NHS Stop Smoking Services, the very thing we were asking about in fact.  So as soon as we hear from Barry again, we shall let you know whether this is incompetence (which is bad) or a cover-up at the expense of taxpayers’ millions and smokers’ lives. Truth Will Out, won’t it?  We’ll make sure of it, actually.  Watch this space.

(Just want to quit smoking? Click here.)

One thought on “The Department of Stealth”

  1. The report they actually did send was an account of the difficulties in getting smoking cessation services established and filling the posts. It concludes:

    ‘Engaging with primary care services and developing a trained workforce of smoking advisers slowed down smoking cessation service implementation in England.’

    [Isn’t that the same as saying ‘it took time to set it up’? Kind of obvious, surely? -Admin.]

    The report also points out that those giving feedback for the study had no consistent view about the cost-effectiveness of media advertising of cessation services. It notes that filling cessation posts at attractive salaries is an issue, and also that “smoker cessation service staff may need to overcome scepticism and opposition from clinicians delivering existing services.”

    [Now why might they be sceptical, do you think? – Admin.]

    Hardly surprising that on the best reports cessation barely reaches a 15 per cent success rate.

    [“Best reports”? Or false reports? We shall find out very soon! -Admin.]

    By the way, so far the DoH has still not updated its page as far as I can see:

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