They form a class of hypolipidemic agents, used to lower cholesterol levels in people with or at risk of cardiovascular disease. They are widely used in the National Health Service for people with high cholesterol and are (or have been) believed to reduce the risk of coronary disease in later life.
However, a new study by Harvard researcher Dr John Abramson has prompted questions of whether the 1bn the NHS spends every year on the drug could be better spent on something else.
Four million people in the UK are prescribed statins every year. Although recognised as being of use to those who have heart disease, their effectiveness as a preventative agent for women of any age and for men over the age of 69 has been called into question by Abramson.
The research also reveals that where statins are prescribed to men under the age of 69 with a high risk of heart disease, patients might have to use the drug for five years to prevent a serious heart attack. So there’s a big discrepancy between the drug’s widespread use and its true impact.
We know that medical advances constantly provide us with new treatments and procedures that can prolong our lives. But because there are so many, the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence have to make choices about what will be funded.
We’ve seen the outrage elicited by the denial of treatment on a cost basis for breast cancer and Alzheimer sufferers. This information about the possible ineffectiveness of a widely prescribed drug is bound to cause controversy among people whose treatment has been compromised by the NHS not funding alternatives.
NICE reviews its decisions and we have to hope it takes research of this kind seriously. After all, 1bn a year is too much if there are doubts about a drug’s efficacy.
So what can you, as professional protection advisers, take from this? Medical advances are constant and your clients need to be aware that by relying on the NHS there is a chance they will not get instant access to the treatment they need. The new findings regarding statins highlight the need for constant monitoring of the drugs available to ensure that the NHS is spending its cash as efficiently as possible.
But for clients with a critical illness policy, a lump sum payment can allow them to make their own decisions about the treatment best placed to aid their recovery – they are not reliant on decisions made, rightly or wrongly, within NICE and NHS financial boundaries.