The government has said it is working with medicine suppliers to ensure supply of smoking cessation aid varenicline in England, as part of wider plans for the country to become smoke-free by 2030.
This follows varenicline (Champix) being recalled by its manufacturer Pfizer in October 2021, after the presence of a probable human carcinogen was detected.
In a speech at the think tank Policy Exchange on 11 April 2023, pharmacy minister Neil O’Brien set out the government’s plans to help people quit smoking, including using “the latest treatments — proven to give smokers a much greater chance of quitting”.
“Some of the most cost-effective treatments that we have are not currently available in England. We are working closely with suppliers to give access to prescribers, to put licensed medications in the hands of those who would benefit the most from them,” he said.
“For example, ensuring the availability of proven smoking cessation medicines, such as varenicline and cytisine. We have been working urgently with businesses to unblock supply chain problems to support more people who want to quit.”
Cytisine is a naturally occurring plant alkaloid that acts as a partial agonist at the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. It is used in Eastern Europe but is not currently licensed in the UK.
The pharmacy minister added that the government also plans to “join up services through the new integrated care systems, to make the NHS more like a national prevention service”.
“The pioneering work being done by the Humber and North Yorkshire Integrated Care Board is leading the way in devoting local health service resources, organising the local system to have a local voice in driving down smoking rates in [its] most deprived communities,” he said.
O’Brien’s comments come as data published by the NHS Business Services Authority in April 2023 show that 3,942 community pharmacies have signed up to offer the NHS Smoking Cessation advanced service since it launched in March 2022. Some 2,200 pharmacies had registered for the service within the first two months of it going live.
In response to a question from The Pharmaceutical Journal on the government’s plans to increase the number of pharmacies offering this service, O’Brien said: “You will have heard the secretary of state talking from the dispatch box about our forthcoming primary care recovery plan and he’s mentioned his enthusiasm about getting pharmacists doing more.
“It wouldn’t be right to say more at this point — that plan is forthcoming in the not-too-distant future. But absolutely we recognise the potential power of pharmacy in all this. Indeed, some of those local schemes that I mentioned have been using pharmacists as the delivery vehicle, so I think there is potential there.”
In January 2023, health secretary Steve Barclay told the House of Commons that he would like to see community pharmacies “do even more” and trailed the upcoming ‘primary care recovery plan’ that was first announced in the government’s Autumn Statement in November 2022, which he said will include “a range of additional services” for community pharmacists to offer.