Concerns have been raised for the future of services to help people in Hartlepool quit smoking after public health chiefs decided to pull funding for specialist support from health professionals.
Clinics and treatments, including those to pregnant mums, have previously been provided by the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust and paid for by Hartlepool Borough Council.
But from April, the council has decided to stop commissioning the service from the health trust.
The council, which is responsible for public health, says instead it will provide support through its own services.
But one former employee of the Hartlepool Stop Smoking Service fears what it will mean for the quality of future services given Hartlepool’s high smoking rates and targets to bring them down.
Judith Rees, who retired from the service 18 months ago but still works for it occasionally, said: “The service has been running for 20 years. An awful lot of effort has been put into providing it.
“It just appears that the plug is being pulled. I do feel quite strongly that the people of Hartlepool deserve better.
“The pregnancy side will be a sad miss if pregnant women aren’t supported because we have got such a high prevalence.”
She said the level of pregnant women smoking has fallen from about 30% a decade ago to 16.8% now.
The Hartlepool Joint Health and Well Being Strategy is to see that reduced to 6% by 2020.
It is also a target to reduce the town’s smoking rate from 19.2% – almost one in five adults – to 12% by 2020.
The stop smoking service provides training to qualified and student midwives.
Judith said nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), given to pregnant women after 12-week scans, can only be prescribed by nurses.
She said there was no consultation or request for the stop smoking service to reduce its budget, and says whatever support the council provides there will be a gap.
The current service runs nine weekly clinics at libraries and community buildings around the town.
Judith added: “Colleagues are still treating people coming in to start three month programmes.”
A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesman said: “We have made the decision to stop commissioning this service from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, but this does not mean we will no longer be supporting people who would like to stop smoking.
“We are building capacity within our community based services to support people with a range of interventions that will assist them.
“Local authority support is also available from our health visitors, school nurses and leisure services.”