Statins millions more to get drugs in controversial plans
Statins – millions more to get drugs in controversial plans
Four in ten adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are now eligible for statins, even though many are at low risk of a heart attack or stroke. The medicines regulator, NICE, says it will save lives.
There has been vocal opposition to the plans, and doctors’ leaders said they had no confidence in the decision. But all sides of the debate say people who are already taking statins should continue to take their medication. The NHS estimates the drugs save 21,000 lives over three years.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks and strokes, is the UK’s biggest killer. It claims 180,000 lives a year and is behind one in three deaths. Statins reduce the build-up of fatty-plaques that lead to blockages in blood vessels.
Under the new regime, all healthy men over 60 and women over 65 could be offered statins. Those with high cholesterol, smokers, the obese or with a strong family history of heart problems could be offered the drugs at an even younger age.
Supporters argue that one of the mainstays of modern medicine is to use treatments to prevent bad things happening in the future. So in the same way as we use vaccines and immunisation to prevent infectious disease, and use drugs to lower blood pressure to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and kidneys disease, so we should now use statins to help combat cardiovascular disease.
Opponents of the changes are concerned about the possible side-effects of statins. NICE argues that there are barely any while other doctors say it is a massive problem.
It would cost £52m to give statins to all 4.5 million people who became eligible. But due to the falling costs of the drugs, the statins bill for the NHS would still be lower than in 2012. The 10% risk threshold is comparable to other European countries.
Prof Peter Weissberg, the medical director at the British Heart Foundation, has said: “Doctors will now be able to offer a statin to people at a lower risk, but their prescription is not mandated. Just as important is the emphasis on trying lifestyle changes before considering treatments with drugs. The weight of evidence suggests statins are effective, affordable and have an acceptable risk-benefit profile.”
Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashtons Legal, comments: “Is it right to prescribe drugs which you will have to take for the rest of your life to potentially avoid something? Is it the best preventative path? Do we know enough about the effect of statins in particular on patients who are prescribed them with few or no symptoms but who are potentially at risk? It will be interesting to watch future developments.”
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