Background: The 1998 UK government White Paper Smoking Kills emphasises that normal practice should be for general practitioners (GPs), practice nurses, and others to offer advice and support to smokers in their efforts to stop. However, GPs are not allowed to write NHS prescriptions for nicotine-replacement therapy, even though this is the only effective pharmaceutical treatment available in the UK. We estimated the cost-effectiveness, for the NHS, of allowing GPs to prescribe transdermal nicotine patches for up to 12 weeks.
Methods: We used data from a randomised, placebo-controlled efficacy trial of nicotine patches and a survey of associated resource use in 30 GP surgeries in 15 English counties. We calculated the health benefit of nicotine-patch treatment in number of life years that would be saved by stopping smoking at various ages, and used an abstinence-contingent treatment model to calculate the incremental cost per life year saved by GP counselling with nicotine-patch treatment over GP counselling alone. Cost effectiveness was assessed on the basis that GPs would provide repeat NHS prescriptions for up to 12 weeks if the treatment was proving successful.
Findings: If GPs were allowed to prescribe transdermal nicotine patches on the NHS, for up to 12 weeks, the incremental cost per life year saved would be: Pound Sterling 398 per person younger than 35 years; Pound Sterling 345 for those aged 35-44 years; Pound Sterling 432 for those aged 45-54 years; and Pound Sterling 785 for those aged 55-65 years.
Interpretation: The low cost per life year saved would make GP intervention against smoking a cost-effective life-saving treatment. The priniciples of the government White Paper could be cost-effectively extended into general practice to reduce smoking and smoking-related illnesses.