Public asked about health cash reward scheme

Smoking Financial incentives could be used to encourage people to stop smoking

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A public consultation is being launched over whether the NHS in England and Wales should offer financial incentives to encourage healthier lifestyles.

NICE, the advisory body for the health service, has already been exploring the issue.

But it now wants to know what the public thinks after the idea got the thumbs up from its citizen's council.

Nearly two thirds of the 32-strong group - used as a sounding board for sensitive topics - backed incentives.

In May, NICE officials told the BBC incentives could play a key role in tackling smoking, obesity and drinking rates and was working with academics to see how and when they worked best.

Merit

Its citizen's council agrees the idea has merit - as long as the payments are not allowed to be used for unhealthy pursuits.

The backing has prompted the public consultation which will be run until the end of November.

Incentive schemes are already operated in some areas to mixed success, while NICE has already backed their use for drug users.

However, it is unlikely the current government would allow NICE to formally recommend incentives as an option for the whole health service.

A Department of Health spokesman described them as an undesirable use of money and should only be adopted as a "last resort".

Instead, it seems the only way the advisory body would end up backing them would be for niche groups, such as specific age groups or for people from certain social backgrounds, if there was strong evidence they worked.

NICE chairman Sir Michael Rawlins said: "We clearly face several public health challenges in today's society, some more obvious than others, and we must seek to improve these in ways that are likely to achieve the best health outcomes for those affected."

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