Top doctors criticise plans to advise millions to take statins
A group of doctors have criticised plans to advise millions more people to take cholesterol-reducing statins. The drugs are offered to around seven million people in the UK who have a 20% risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years.
Statins are a "safe, effective, cholesterol-lowering drug" and are proven to lower the risk of heart disease, according to the British Heart Foundation.
People with high cholesterol are at significantly greater risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. That’s why it’s vital to reduce your cholesterol levels either through medication or lifestyle changes.
NICE has taken the sensible decision to reconsider the threshold for who should be prescribed statins.
However, looking at someone’s risk of heart disease in the next ten years is too short a time frame. We should be taking a more holistic approach by looking at a person’s risk over their whole lifetime as recently recommended by leading cardiovascular organisations.
In the meantime, it is important that anyone who has already been prescribed statins continues to take them as advised by their doctor to help maintain a healthy heart.
Prescribing cholesterol-reducing statins to millions more people will "increase costs to the NHS, not reduce them", a cardiologist said.
Although there is good evidence that the benefits of statins outweigh the potential harms in those with established heart disease, this is clearly not the case for healthy people.
For example a doctor wouldn't give chemotherapy to a patient who didn't have cancer or prescribe insulin to someone without diabetes.
When you add up doctors' appointments, unnecessary suffering for those who experience side effects that interfere with the quality of life, the illusion of protection of taking a drug that won't reduce the risk of death in healthy people - and the increasing burden of chronic disease which is predominantly lifestyle-related - prescribing statins to millions of healthy people would increase costs to the NHS, not reduce it.
Proposals put forward by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which suggests more people could take statins, are "intended to prevent many lives being destroyed", a senior professor from the health body said.
Cardiovascular disease maims and kills people through coronary heart disease, peripheral arterial disease and stroke.
Together, these kill one in three of us. Our proposals are intended to prevent many lives being destroyed.
We have consulted on these proposals and the results of this consultation are currently being reviewed prior to publication of our final recommendations next month.
Our proposals are also being independently peer reviewed to ensure they are reliable and evidence-based.
– Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for clinical practice at Nice
The "medicalisation of millions of healthy individuals" is unjustified and Nice's statin guidance "represents a further embarrassment" for the health body, a group of leading doctors said.
Professor Simon Capewell, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, said: "Two decades of research has confirmed the obvious: doctors receiving drug industry funding produce recommendations favouring the industry.
"It also represents a further embarrassment for Nice.
"Nice urgently need to develop a better mechanism for controlling these conflicts of interests. The recent statin recommendations are deeply worrying, effectively condemning all middle aged adults to lifelong medications of questionable value."
Plans to advise millions more people to take cholesterol-reducing statins have been criticised by a group of leading doctors.
Around seven million people in the UK, who have a 20% risk of developing a cardiovascular disease within 10 years, are currently offered the drugs.
The NHS have been urged to widen this to cover those with just a 10% risk, draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) shows.
However, a number of prominent clinicians, including the president of the Royal College of Physicians and a former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, have written a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt expressing their concerns.
They claim the latest guidance is based almost entirely on studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry and said non-industry sponsored studies showed an increased risk of developing diabetes in middle aged women taking statins.
Other side effects include fatigue, psychiatric symptoms and erectile dysfunction, the clinicians warn.