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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 01:09 GMT
Figures 'show heart drug success'
Heart attack
Heart disease is Britain's number one killer
Thousands of lives are being saved every year because doctors are prescribing more cholesterol-lowering drugs, government figures are expected to show.

Radical improvements in combating heart disease over the last three years are due to be revealed in Department of Health statistics due out on Monday.

But the Conservatives claim the cost of prescribing the cholesterol-lowering drugs, known as statins, is forcing local trusts to cut budgets for other treatments.

Shorter waiting times for heart operations and quicker life-saving treatment for Britain's number one killer are also expected to be unveiled.

Risk lowered

Statins work by reducing the level of cholesterol in the blood of patients with heart disease.

About 6,000 lives in England alone may have been saved by the use of the drug, the DoH is expected to say.

Studies have highlighted the benefits of taking statins.

Doctors have argued starting on anti-cholesterol drugs within days of having a heart attack might halve the risk of going on to suffer a stroke.

A study of more than 3,000 patients, carried out in California, reported in the journal Circulation last year suggested if the statins were given early, then the benefits could be greater.

But some concern has been raised elsewhere by experts in the US that there may be an increase in deaths as a result of the success in keeping people with weakened hearts alive for many more years.

Last week a survey found the UK still has one of the highest death rates for heart disease in western Europe, topping the table with Ireland and Finland, although rates are falling.

The number of coronary artery bypass grafts has doubled over the last 10 years, and the number of angioplasties has risen by around 40% in the past year, the survey by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) found.

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