Background: The English National Health Service's (NHS) Stop Smoking Services (SSSs) constitute one of the most highly developed behavioural support programmes in the world. However, there is significant variation in success rates across the approximately 150 services, some of which may be due to variation in practice. This study aimed to assess these differences in practice.
Methods: Two online surveys were administered. All commissioners (people who purchase services for the NHS) and managers (those who run the services) of NHS SSSs in England were invited to participate. Items included details of current practices and services provided, what informed the commissioning of SSSs, what targets were included within service specifications and whether the types of treatment model to be delivered were specified.
Results: Both surveys had a response rate of 35%, with 50 commissioners and 58 managers participating. There were no significant differences between the characteristics of the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) from which commissioners and managers responded to this survey and those PCTs from which there was no response. Managers reported that the treatment model most frequently offered by SSSs was one-to-one (98%). A total of 16% of managers reported that some approved medications were not available as first-line treatments. Just over one third (38%) of commissioners reported consulting national guidelines or best evidence to inform local commissioning. Almost one third (30%) of commissioners reported that they specified the types of stop smoking interventions to be delivered by the providers.
Conclusions: A substantial part of commissioning of Stop Smoking Services in England appears to take place without adequate consultation of evidence-based guidelines or specification of the service to be provided. This may account for at least some of the variation in success rates.