Leading doctors have indicated that statins are being rationed by the NHS in a desperate move to reduce expenditure, despite the fact that the drugs often cost a matter of pennies.
Health watchdogs have condemned the decision to limit access to the heart-related medicine, asserting that the wider prescription of statins had been recommended in order to save lives.
However, despite criticism over what many will see as penny-pinching, it is worth remembering that statins remain something of a controversial medicine.
Many believe that simple lifestyle factors, such as increased exercise, improved diet, ceasing smoking and reducing alcohol intake, are more effective than taking the drugs in question.
The drugs, which reduce the cholesterol level of patients, cost less than 10p per patient per day, underlining the rather bizarre nature of this particular financial decision.
This latest financial move can be placed in the context of an extremely challenging healthcare climate, in which NHS trusts face massive deficits, while being tasked with achieving billions of pounds worth of efficiency savings.
But Stockport CCG has caused fury from senior doctors and from Nice, after ordering local GPs to ignore the Nice advice, instead restricting the drugs to those at greatest risk.
It seems difficult to defend the decision to limit access to statins, considering the relatively trivial amount of money involved.
Dr Andrew Green, chairman of a British Medical Association committee on prescribing, believes that funding is at the heart of the issue, and the statin prescription can be considered a mere symptom of a wider malaise.
“So many CCGs are in deficit due to under-funding, and the pressure on them to achieve financial balance is so great that we are beginning to see some very strange decisions born out of desperation.”
The CCG released a statement outlining the reasons behind the statin rationing.
“The CCG was required to make some decisions on savings to achieve financial balance and long-term financial health. The plan included a decision to not implement the NICE lipid modification guidelines for primary prevention in full.”
But Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for clinical practice at Nice, was critical of the CCG’s decision, believing it could be a policy that ultimately indirectly kills.
“Cardiovascular disease maims and kills people through coronary heart disease, peripheral arterial disease and stroke. Together, these kill one in three of us. This decision amounts to denying patients access to the most effective means of reducing that risk. Our guidance is intended to prevent many lives being destroyed and it offers a major shift in public health outcomes at relatively low cost.”
Responding to the widespread criticism, a Department of Health spokesperson defended its health service funding, and indicated that statin rationing is not obligatory.
“Doctors should make decisions about prescribing statins based on clinical evidence – there should be no blanket restrictions. We are giving the NHS more money – £4 billion this year – to fund its own plan for the future, and it’s vital that money is spent effectively.”