Smoking cessation

Michael Walsh shares his approach to smoking cessation, which saw an increase in the number of people signing up to the service.

Michael Walsh has genuine empathy for clients who want to quit smoking: it took him seven attempts to kick the habit. ‘I see it from the perspective of a smoker, as well as of that of an advisor,’ he says. He has a lot of praise for the NHS smoking cessation service, calling it ‘one of the most generous and forward-thinking health policies to be implemented by the Government’, but when he took it on, he also realised that there was room for improvement.

The first of these was that it took too much time, particularly the initial consultation. ‘Covering the important topics, paperwork and a carbon monoxide reading within the recommended 30 minutes can be a real struggle,’ he says.

So, he hired his local town hall and held a patient workshop that covered topics such as the physical and mental aspects of addiction, weight gain, Champix and nicotine replacement therapy.

The event was so successful that he held another, getting 40 new patients to sign up. ‘If you can get 40 people in a room and go through all of those things then, when they come in, you are hitting the ground running,’ he says.

Holding the event in the town hall also removed some of the distractions present in the pharmacy, he adds. Once people have signed up, they need regular communication to help them stick with it, especially in the early days. ‘Giving someone five minutes a week for 12 weeks is much more useful than lecturing them for an hour,’ he says.

On the other hand, it takes a lot more coordination as well, which is why Michael started entering his patients’ details into both a spreadsheet and a software programme. The spreadsheet lets him see at a glance who has lapsed and needs to be contacted quickly, and speeds up follow-ups; the software automatically sends out a text message reminding them of their appointment.

On top of this, every Monday he gives his early-stage quitters a call to see how things are going. He chose Mondays because many people struggle at the weekend; this way, if someone has found it difficult, he can say: ‘Come in and we’ll get you back on track.’ These reminders and offers of assistance can make a real difference, he says.