Speaking at the NHS Health and Care Innovation Expo conference in Manchester, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens announced plans for a review into the feasibility of making high-dose statins available from community pharmacies without a prescription, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan to cut cases of heart disease and stroke.
Although low-dose statins can be given over the counter, they are not generally made available by pharmaceutical firms, and making the 'most effective and powerful versions' safely available, without a GP's prescription, 'could prevent thousands more deaths and countless more heart attacks and strokes' according to NHS England.
The review will be led by NHS England's chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Keith Ridge and newly appointed primary care director Dr Nikita Kanani. The findings will be presented to manufacturers and the MHRA, which will have the final say.
Dr Ridge said: 'Used appropriately, statins are effective and can save lives. Hundreds of thousands of people could benefit if industry committed more research and investment in bringing high-dose statins to the high street, and the NHS is going to be driving forward these efforts, as we save thousands of lives from deadly heart attacks and strokes as part of our Long Term Plan.'
New research funded by the British Heart Foundation and published at the European Society of Cardiology Conference in Paris last week has shown that the benefits of statins may be even higher than previously thought. In the study, the combination of a long-term reduction of 1mmol/L LDL-cholesterol and a 10mmHg reduction in blood pressure was associated with an 80% reduced lifetime risk of developing heart disease and circulatory disease.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard told GPonline it was vital for any intervention backed by the NHS to be evidence-based and in the best interests of patients.
'Extensive medical evidence has shown that statins are usually a safe and effective preventative measure against heart disease, and thousands of patients already benefit from statin therapy,' the college chair said.
'But GPs are also mindful of the risks of overdiagnosis and over-treatment – a concern we expressed in response to recent NICE guidelines that lowered the threshold for eligibility of statins – and we also have concerns about making these drugs more easily accessible, without a prescription.
'Statins, like any medication, have associated risks, and GPs will only prescribe them if we think it is in the best interests of an individual patients, based on their individual circumstances – and after a frank conversation about the potential risks and benefits.'