The Smoking Cessation Programme started in 2018 with Alice Aitken, due to a gap being identified in the Outpatient Pharmacy’s available services. As the service grew, more advisors were taken on as the demand was ever-increasing. During the pandemic, pharmacies were forced to cease face to face smoking cessation consultations, however, QEF leads decided, alongside the local authority, to trial the service via telephone appointments. This raised the Smoking Cessation Service’s popularity as it became a reliable and convenient alternative to going without. The implementation of a service that still offered the same products, support, and deliveries as well as being able to build a relationship with the patient proved highly successful. In 2023, out of 652 patients who signed up through QEF, 580 received help via their telephone clinics. They also deliver the products to patients for free, which most competitor services do not. This was essential during the pandemic as it was a difficult time for members of the community in more ways than one; QEF helped break down health and social inequality barriers to reach out to those who needed it most.
Recently the service has further expanded its products and availability to match the increasing demand. The team have gained a good relationship with the Respiratory Team at the QE who have recently developed a programme whereby patients who have a smoking history are contacted and offered a CT scan at the QE’s mobile ‘CT Scan Van.’ These patients are then referred to the Smoking Cessation Team with an Outpatient referral voucher making it easy to find for those who want the support. The team have also joined a pilot study for using vapes instead of NRT as a quit tool and not an alternative. This widens the range of services available as studies have shown that alternative methods of quitting can work just as well as NRT for some people.
The service has had great success in breaking down the health and inequality barriers due to the ways the service can be accessed. Telephone lines allow those facing difficulties leaving the house to have access to the service. This may be due to being unable to afford transport, being worried about the stigma attached to smoking, being physically unable to move and many other reasons. Extra training from the Association of Psychological Therapies has enabled advisors to build trusting and friendly relationships with patients and this has in turn, aided in breaking down the barriers. An example of this is that some patients enjoy phone calls with advisors due to a lack of social interaction. These non-judgemental relationships are built partly due to the patient being assigned the same advisor for the full 12-week course and often QEF advisors have been smokers themselves giving them a relatable and unique advantage compared to those who haven’t been directly affected by smoking.
The team has grown more in the past couple of months with two new staff members allowing for an extra 24 hours of service per week. This is an increase of over 40% in hours the service is available to the smoking public. The number of patients signed up has also increased with 652 patients signing up and 264 of them quitting after 12 weeks so far in 2023. This results in a 40.49% success rate which is the highest in Gateshead. The growth from 2021 has increased massively with over 1000 patients signing up and nearly 500 of them quitting after 12 weeks.
The quality of the service is also increasing with training in motivational interviewing and behavioural support being undertaken. This enables cases to be managed more personally and sensitively and this has proven to produce more successful quit attempts and longer engagement in the programme. When the patient feels like they have a confidante rather than just another healthcare professional advising them through the harder times, quit rates rise and with that, hospital re-admissions decrease. Patient safety and patient care are paramount in QEF’s ethos.
Alice Aitken, Lead for the Outpatient's Smoking Cessation Programme, said,” Our advisors' pride themselves on being the most compassionate, non-judgemental and empathetic advisors in the area. Not only do our statistics speak for themselves, but our recommendations through consultants in the hospital and local authority peers, speaks volumes. I am very proud of how far we have come and how much we have grown, especially throughout, and since the pandemic. Please, if you have ever thought about quitting, give us a chance to help you. You won't know until you try!”
If you are looking to quit smoking and need a helping hand, please contact the smoking cessation team at 0191 4458144 or email at