Could the cost of the increasing use of statins to reduce heart disease and stroke undermine the chancellor's plans for a better NHS? Wendy Moore reports
The cost of cholesterol lowering drugs was probably not uppermost in Chancellor Gordon Brown's mind when he announced future funding for public services in his comprehensive spending review last week. That may soon change.
The rising bill for statins could make a sizeable dent in the 7.3% annual average growth promised to the NHS for the next six years. The latest findings from the UK's 20000 patient heart protection study, published in the Lancet this month, showed that statins could protect a much larger pool of people at risk of heart attacks and stroke than previously accepted (BMJ 2002;325:5). Calling for new prescribing guidelines, the authors said that statins could benefit three times the number of patients currently receiving them—thus tripling the statins drugs bill.
On the other side of the balance sheet, the wider prescribing of statins would save 10000 lives from cardiovascular disease, argues the study. This would go a long way towards helping the NHS meet its target of cutting mortality from heart disease by 40% in people aged under 75 by 2010, which was underlined in last week's Treasury package. Curbing the death toll from heart disease, as the heart protection study team is at pains to point out, could save substantial sums not just in …