TOBACCO control group Fresh has backed calls from the Royal College of Physicians for the NHS to offer smokers routine support to quit when they receive hospital care regardless of their condition.

The North-East based group said it would support the broader work led by local authorities and complement their local community stop smoking services.

A report by the Royal College of Physicians said smoking cessation should be prioritised as a core NHS activity and the treatment offered to all smokers unless they chose to opt out.

It also suggested electronic cigarettes should be allowed on NHS sites and training in smoking cessation be introduced into all healthcare professional training

It is claimed such measures could reduce the £1bn a year cost to the NHS from smoking.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “Smoking is our biggest killer and cause of ill health. "Our doctors, nurses and GPs are in a unique position to alter the course of a patient’s long term health and help them to quit.

“Not doing so means we are failing our patients.

"The link between smoking and lung cancer has been known since 1954 and in the NHS’s 70th anniversary year, this is a reminder that still not enough is being done when smokers enter hospital.

"The evidence is strong that helping smokers to stop is very cost effective, saves lives and will save the NHS millions of pounds, and will help the North-East get to a point when five per cent or fewer people smoke.

“There are some excellent examples of where hospitals are making a real difference, but we need all hospitals to now be doing this systematically and treat smoking alongside other conditions.

“Many smokers would like to be able to quit and entering hospital can be a very significant moment.

"This would represent an important extension to the excellent work by local authorities to reduce smoking and improve health in our communities.”

Dr Tony Branson, medical director for the Northern Cancer Alliance, said: “The NHS is more stretched than ever before, but treating tobacco dependency is one of the single most effective ways we can improve outcomes for patients, and reduce the chances of them being re-admitted to hospital.

“This is a vital opportunity for the NHS to tackle this issue and help us reduce the burden of smoking related diseases on our wards and across local communities.”

James Degnen, from Middlesbrough, was told by doctors he had to quit smoking or face losing a leg.

He underwent major vascular surgery for blocked veins in his legs at the start of last year. and faced a stark choice – quit smoking or lose a leg.

The 67-year-old said: "It’s important for doctors and nurses to keep talking to patients about stopping smoking.

"Medical professionals spend a lot of time and effort in saving people’s lives and people do heed their warnings.”