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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 April, 2003, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
Patients 'to buy heart drugs'
The drugs cost the NHS 440m annually
Patients will reportedly be able to buy life-saving heart drugs over-the-counter in chemists for the first time within a year.

Ministers will not block an application by pharmaceutical companies to make statins more widely available, a report in the Sunday Telegraph suggests.

Statins which are used to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of stroke in people who have had a heart attack are currently only available on prescription.

Studies have also suggested they can protect against Alzheimer's disease and brittle bones.

Cheaper drugs

The patent on statins is due to run out next year which will allow other pharmaceutical companies to start producing these drugs.

Statins are the most expensive item on the NHS drugs bill.

According to the report, ministers hope the decision to allow statins to be bought by patients without a prescription would see the cost of these drugs to the NHS fall dramatically.

One million prescriptions for statins are issued each month in the UK at an annual cost of 440m.

This is despite the fact the drugs are restricted to only those with a 30% chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years.

The decision to allow the drug to be bought over the counter could also help save thousands of lives each year.

A study published last year, estimated as many as 10,000 lives could be saved each year in Britain if statins were more widely available.

Nevertheless, a decision to allow pharmacists to sell statins to patients without a prescription would also spark concern in some quarters.

Statins have been linked to muscle ache and a reduced liver function. In extreme cases the drug has been found to lead to muscle wasting and even total renal failure.

Nevertheless, experts have backed the move.

Professor Chris Packard, head of clinical biochemistry at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, told the Sunday Telegraph: "This is a good option. It is a good way forward for expanding the prevention of coronary heart disease.''

Studies have shown patients who take statins within days of having a heart attack cut their risk of going on to have a stroke by half.

Other studies have suggested statins can protect against Alzheimer's and even brittle bones.

In March, scientists suggested the drugs could also help to slow down the advance of multiple sclerosis.

Call for heart drug lifesaver
04 Jul 02  |  Health

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