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GPs in some PCTs have far higher prescribing rates for statins than in others, a new study reveals.

After controlling for the age and sex of trust populations, researchers found more than two-fold variation in use of the drugs between PCTs.

The variation was partly explained by differences in 'need' for statins, but the study identified 'pockets across the country where need is high but the use of statins low' ­ and other areas with significant overuse.

GPs blamed the proliferations of regional guidelines and financial constraints within some PCTs for the stark differences.

The study, presented at last month's International Health Economics Association conference in Barcelona, found prescribing rates of statins varied between 62 and 163 per cent of the

levels expected given existing guidelines and population demographics.

Study leader Dr Clive Pritchard, health economist at the Office of Health Economics in London, told Pulse: 'There are certainly unexplained variations and if those were factors that were randomly distributed across the country we would expect them to cancel out at the PCT level.

'But there may be other factors, for example PCT financial situation, that could be important.'

Dr John Pittard, member of the CHD national service framework guidance group and a GP in Staines, Middlesex, said some PCTs with relatively low need had incentivised statins prescribing, while others with higher

need but less money had not.

'Where specific money has been put into it for somewhat arbitrary reasons it has improved quite rapidly,' he said.

GPs also warned that the proliferation of guidelines and variation between them could have contributed to regional inequalities.

Dr Rubin Minhas, CHD lead for Medway PCT and a GP in Gillingham, Kent, said: 'The plethora of guidelines recommending statins means that clinicians operate differing thresholds for initiating these drugs.

'NICE guidance should help to reduce variation.'

By Daniel Cressey

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