A COUNCIL’S decision to cut back on funding for hospital-based stop smoking support will mean patients will face a postcode lottery, it was revealed last night.

The decision by Darlington Borough Council means that specialist smoking cessation staff working for the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust – which runs Darlington Memorial Hospital and the University Hospital of North Durham – are no longer allowed to help patients from Darlington to quit.

But because Durham County Council is continuing to fund hospital-based stop smoking services, patients from the rest of County Durham will continue to get help to quit smoking while they are in hospital.

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The ban on providing smoking cessation support also applies to hospital staff who live in Darlington.

Jake Turnbull, North-East spokesman for the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This is completely unacceptable. The health services that are provided to these patients should be provided regardless of where they live.

“This postcode lottery is a completely unacceptable consequence of the divesting of health services to local authority budgets.

“We are fully aware that local authorities are under extreme financial pressure due to the financial settlement from the Government but to treat people differently depending on where they live is not acceptable.”

Trevor Johnston, Unison's lead officer for health in the North-East region, said: "It is ludicrous that smoking cessation, one of the key things for mid-term and long-term health is being axed. It is absolute madness and is storing up problems for the future."

He said the situation has been caused by the Government's health reforms which meant care "is not joined up in any shape or form."

A spokeswoman for Darlington Borough Council said: “Helping people to stop smoking is one of the most important public health services that we provide and Darlington residents will continue to get the support they need through community based services at GPs surgeries and pharmacies. We will no longer be commissioning hospital-based stop smoking services.”

A spokesman for the Trust said: “County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust currently provides stop smoking support to patients at University Hospital of North Durham and Darlington Memorial Hospital.

"Presently this service is commissioned by both Durham County Council and Darlington Borough Council. From April 1, 2014, Darlington Borough Council will no longer be commissioning the Trust to provide this service.

“Stop smoking support will continue to be available to Darlington residents from their GP practice and local pharmacies.

"Darlington Borough Council’s website also contains useful information about healthy lifestyles at darlington.gov.uk .

"The Trust regrets that it will no longer be able to provide high quality stop smoking services to Darlington residents."

After a review of the Health Improvement Service currently provided by County Durham and Darlington Trust, the council has also decided to stop funding food and health courses, a health trainer and workplace health.