October 2015

Eurozoned: The National Wealth Service

By Dave Cross

Nye Bevan, the son of a coal miner, championed the rights of working people and social justice his entire life. He was instrumental in setting up the National Health Service (NHS) after mapping out the free at point of delivery provision in 1945. The NHS was tasked with the universal care of the population but it’s now a service that is now creaking at the seams due to underfunding. The system has its faults and allegations of corruption point to reasons why e-cigs face tough opposition, but there are positive stories coming from it too.

It is no secret that the level to which vaping is going to be accepted in England and Wales depends upon the support the NHS is seen to give it. Although businesses and campaigning groups will have their say in dictating how legislation will progress, the voice of doctors holds a lot of sway. Doctors, through their professional body The British Medical Association (BMA), have been unsupportive of the electronic alternative to smoking on the whole.

“NHS bosses paid by drug firms,” sang the headline of The Daily Telegraph. “Senior NHS staff are being paid thousands of pounds and taken on expensive trips by drug companies lobbying to get their products used by the health service.”

The BMA has been vociferous of its opposition to vaping. Ignoring the growing body of evidence to the contrary, some of it being produced in conjunction with NHS services, they have stuck resolutely to the mantra that quitters should use nicotine patches or the other increasingly failing pharmaceutical products. Now the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place and explain why such an important organization would take the stance it does.

What the BMA had to say in the past is that it favours a strong regulatory hand for electronic cigarettes. While sales of some NRT products are falling by 30 to 50 percent, research from Professor Robert West highlights that e-cigs promote a 60 percent increased chance of quitting successfully. People have been scratching their heads in disbelief at the BMA’s standpoint and then plunged into the depths of incredulity when George Rae, the BMA’s northeast representative, was quoted as saying that eliquids are “even more cancer forming than what you’re getting within cigarettes themselves.”

The NHS spends tens of billions on medication each year, NRT playing a part of this. It seemed logical to assume that this link had to feature in the machinations of the BMA but it wasn’t until the story broke that we finally had evidence of a sort.

“Many of the meetings take place in five-star hotels around the world, with some attendees telling this newspaper that they were taken to ‘flashy’ restaurants and paid large sums while considering whether to ‘switch’ drugs.”

The BMA members being wined and dined are co-opted onto pointless committees and receive financial rewards under the pretense of advising pharmaceutical companies. Kickbacks include payments of around $800 per day for trips and up to $24,000 for attending a meeting.

An NHS spokesperson announced: “If these allegations are true, this is completely outrageous and amounts to an abuse of the trust that patients place in NHS staff.

The NHS fraud protection body has launched an urgent investigation and we expect each Trust and Clinical Commissioning Group involved to launch a full inquiry.”

Will this have any effect on the vaping-related pronouncements coming from the BMA? It seems highly unlikely, but at least it discredits their opinions. What could prove to hold a much longer-lasting impact is the work being carried out in the quit services themselves—or rather, the actions of one individual: Louise Ross, service manager for the NHS Stop Smoking unit in Leicester.

We’ve met Ross once before in a VAPE Magazine article. She saw the numbers coming for support declining as vaping took off and investigated. Her research drew the conclusion that her unit should become e-cig-friendly. Such was the success of the move that Ross’s name began spreading throughout the country, appearing on talk shows and in interviews.

Ross’s dedication and belief in electronic cigarettes has driven her forward to be a leading advocate within the NHS. When proposals were implemented to ban smoking and vaping from all NHS grounds Ross lobbied hard to see if she could affect a change in policy for the Bradgate NHS mental health unit.

Previous research by Ricardo Polosa found that: “Even with intensive smoking cessation management programs specifically designed for patients with schizophrenia, quit rates are low. Although not formally regulated as a pharmaceutical product, the e-cigarette can help smokers with schizophrenia to reduce their cigarette consumption or remain abstinent and reduce the burden of smoking-related morbidity and mortality, particularly in schizophrenic patients who smoke.”

Polosa’s study formed part of Ross’s argument to convince the local NHS board to allow a pilot vaping study within Bradgate as an alternative to the plans for yet more traditional cessation work. Hopes are that a successful conclusion will enable similar e-cig-based programs to be rolled out across the country.

It will not be the first time Ross has inspired change within the NHS. From being the only quit service to accept vaping, the numbers are beginning to increase as they witness her success. It has contributed to her unit being selected for a national study looking at the efficacy of electronic cigarettes as part of a quit attempt. The research is being carried out by Queen Mary University of London (a leading research-intensive higher education institution) and will focus on three centres in East Sussex, London and Leicester.

Ross said: “We are delighted, and proud, to be one of the test sites. This study will add to our body of knowledge around e-cigarettes.”

So while the BMA may be scheming with Big Pharma for financial motives they may yet be undone by the pure intent and dedicated work of Ross, a person Nye Bevan would be proud of working in his National Health Service.

Dave Cross is a writer, biker, vaper, ever-more rotund punk and perpetual disappointment to his parents. According to his wife he is frequently wrong about most things. Follow Dave Cross on Twitter @MawsleyX.