Medical experts have argued dishing out the cholesterol-lowering drug will not benefit everybody
It could mean four in 10 adults, including most of those in late middle age, are put on regular doses in a move that “medicalises” healthy people, leaving them at risk of side-effects including diabetes and memory loss.
Medical experts are angry that doctors are being offered incentives to prescribe the drugs by a government watchdog, which they say is of “doubtful benefit and may cause harm”.
Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says GPs should get financial incentives to prescribe statins to patients with high blood pressure even if they only have a low risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years.
Yet many heart specialists say that for a large number of patients the benefits do not outweigh the risks, which include diabetes, cataracts, debilitating muscle pains, memory loss and fatigue.
GPs want to do what is best for each patient, there’s much more to that than handing out drugs
They say doctors instead should be advising patients to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle to decrease the risk of heart attacks.
Klim McPherson, professor of public health at Oxford University, said: “This is shocking. Incentivising doctors to dish out drugs to patients who may not benefit and more importantly may suffer side effects is wrong and unethical.”
Professor McPherson, 73, who recently weaned himself off a two-year statin prescription after suffering debilitating muscle pains added: “This should be a matter of individual patient preference with patients fully aware of the risks.”
Family doctor Dr Des Spence, who works for the British Medical Journal, said: “Once you incentivise GPs to do things it distorts patient care. Such a recommendation may lead to people being coerced on to medication not in their best interests.”
Dr Andrew Green, chairman of the British Medical Association’s clinical and prescribing committee, added: “Statins are important for patients at high risk. However, this is not the case for many others.
“Having targets for statin prescriptions is not the best way to measure good quality care.
“GPs want to do what is best for each patient, there’s much more to that than handing out drugs.”
Last year NICE told doctors to lower the threshold for statins to those with only a 10 per cent risk of heart disease, making four in 10 adults, including most late-middle aged men and large numbers of women in the same age group, eligible for the drugs.
Part of doctors’ complex funding depends on meeting government targets.
If this new proposal is approved, statins would be added to the target list and doctors would have to meet the new NICE guidelines on prescribing the drugs to get a share of their funds.
In effect GPs would be paid to issue the drugs to patients at low risk of heart disease.
Last week the Sunday Express reported how heart specialists Professor Simon Capewell, Dr Aseem Malhotra and Dr Andrew Apps had urged doctors to be “transparent” with patients about the risks and benefits of statins.
They also said family doctors should refrain from “scaremongering” about the risks if patients stop taking them.
The warning, published in The Prescriber journal, said statins do nothing to increase life expectancy for low-risk patients and instead expose healthy people to potential side effects that impair quality of life.
Health professionals have until February 23 to send comments to NICE.