GPs to prescribe more statinsMore prescription drugs available

25 January 2006

Millions of patients at risk of heart disease will be offered cholesterol-lowering drugs in a bid to save thousands of lives.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has told GPs to prescribe statins to patients who are found to have a 20 per cent or greater chance of having a heart attack or stroke within the next ten years.

Previously only patients with established cardiovascular disease (CVD) - which includes suffering a heart attack or stroke - and patients with a very high risk of developing it were given the treatment.

The new guidance means that an extra 3.3 million adults will be prescribed the drug, as well as the 1.8 million who currently receive it.

More lives could be saved

NICE hopes that by widening the prescription guidelines more lives could be saved from CVD, which can lead to a fatal heart attack or stroke. CVD causes almost 238,000 deaths a year, making it the most common cause of death in the UK. It's also a major cause of ill health.

NICE, which vets new NHS treatments in England and Wales, looked at five different statins currently licensed in the UK- atorvastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin. Only one of these, simvastatin, is available over the pharmacy counter in a low 10mg dose.

The drugs are believed to save between 6,000 and 7,000 lives a year by helping to lower harmful levels of 'bad' cholesterol, by slowing down its production in the liver. They also increase the liver's ability to remove this cholesterol already in the blood.

Professor David Barnett, who chaired the committee that developed the new advice, said: 'This guidance is arguably one of the most significant to have come out of NICE since it started over six years ago.

'We estimate that around 3.3 million people will become eligible for statin therapy as a result of these recommendations, which offer clear guidance about which patients should be started on treatment with a statin and how doctors should go about it.'