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Pharmacist to dispense high-dose statins without GP prescription under NHS plans

The NHS is looking at removing the need for GPs to prescribe statins and to allow high street pharmacies to give high dose statins over the counter instead.

In a new review confirmed today, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens announced the NHS will consider how high dose statins could be made available on the high street as part of the long-term plan to cut heart disease and stroke.

NHS England claims there to be estimates that two-thirds of people who are most at risk of heart attacks and strokes do not take statins but would benefit from them.

Currently, low dose statins are available over the counter, but the NHS has said making more powerful versions ‘safely available’ without a GP prescription could prevent ‘thousands’ more deaths.

The review will be conducted by NHS England and NHS Improvement and the findings will be presented to manufacturers and medicine watchdog the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Mr Stevens said at today’s Expo healthcare and innovation conference in Manchester: ‘Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals who are greatly valued by patients. Since the NHS will be funding local chemists to undertake health checks, it makes sense to consider whether there are a broader range of medicines that patients could access conveniently and locally on the high street.

‘So the NHS will now work with the MHRA and industry to see how we can best make this happen.

‘After lung cancer scanning trucks in supermarket carparks and high street heart checks, this is another step towards making care and treatment more accessible, convenient and effective.’

However, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said there are ‘concerns’ about making the drugs more easily accessible.

She said: ‘GPs are also mindful of the risks of overdiagnosis and over-treatment – a concern we expressed in response to recent NICE guidelines that lowered the threshold for eligibility of statins – and we also have concerns about making these drugs more easily accessible, without a prescription.

‘Statins, like any medication, have associated risks, and GPs will only prescribe them if we think it is in the best interests of individual patients, based on their individual circumstances – and after a frank conversation about the potential risks and benefits.

‘Nevertheless, it is encouraging that NHS England is conducting this review before implementing a new initiative, and the College looks forward to feeding into it. Prevention is important, but it is essential that any NHS intervention to promote it is evidence-based, and in the best interests of patients.’

But chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Keith Ridge added that ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people could benefit if there was more committed research to allow high dose statins to be made available on the high street.

He said: ‘Used appropriately, statins are effective and can save lives.

‘Hundreds of thousands of people could benefit if the industry committed more research and investment in bringing high-dose statins to the high street, and the NHS is going to be driving forward these efforts, as we save thousands of lives from deadly heart attacks and strokes as part of our long-term plan.’

The review follows more powers being handed to pharmacists as from October, they will be allowed to conduct high street heart checks for high blood pressure.

More to follow…