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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June, 2005, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Public 'misled' over heart drug
Image of pills
Statins can be purchased without a prescription
A government agency has admitted it misled the public over support to allow a heart drug to be sold by high street chemists without a prescription.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said last year that two-thirds of those consulted were in favour of such a move.

But after a criticism from consumer press Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, it conceded the figures were wrong.

Only a third agreed statins should be sold over-the-counter.


Making these drugs available in pharmacies without having to see a doctor was a world first for the UK.

The government hoped making the drugs more easily available would allow people to take control of their own health and reduce the risk of heart attacks.

We apologise for any confusion caused by this error

Potentially it could save the NHS money too if people choose to purchase their own drugs rather than claim them on prescription.

About 1.8m people in England are currently taking statins. It is the most widely prescribed class of drugs, and therefore the most expensive item on the NHS drugs bill, costing the health service over 700m a year.

But some doctors have raised concerns about the side-effects of the drugs as well as their effectiveness in such a low dose.

The MHRA said the findings, published on its website, were incorrect due to "an administrative error".


In a statement it said: "We apologise for any confusion caused by this error. We in no way intended to misrepresent the results and can assure the public and other interested parties that the correct findings were given to the Committee on Safety of Medicines who made their recommendations with the full facts in front of them.

"We have today published a listing of all the consultation responses on our website, together with the full text of all responses, other than those where the respondent has not given consent for public disclosure.

"We are now adopting this model for all future switch consultations, so as to avoid any further confusion."

Which?, the consumer group behind the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB), does not agree that statins should be sold over-the-counter.

Ike Iheanacho, editor of DTB, called for a massive overhaul of the MHRA as recommended in the recent Health Select Committee inquiry.

"Their job is to protect people but this latest episode totally undermines faith in their decision-making process.

"The MHRA has stated that it has made an 'administrative error' but there must be concerns that it dressed up the consultation responses to support its own decision to make simvastatin available over the counter.

"The MHRA displayed a mixture of arrogance and carelessness which is certainly not ideal in a body supposed to protect the public."

Stains are still available on prescription to patients classed as being at high risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Pharmacists to sell heart drugs
12 May 04 |  Health

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