Leading doctors warn guidance on statins could do more harm than good

Highly critical letter accuses NICE of seeking to 'medicalise five million healthy individuals'

health reporter

Plans to prescribe statins to millions more people must be put on hold, a group of leading doctors have said, in a highly critical letter which accuses the Government’s respected health standards body of “conflicts of interest”.

The letter, signed by nine doctors and academics including the president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), warns “public and professional faith” in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) could be lost and harm could be done to “many patients over many years”.

It accuses the standards body of seeking to “medicalise five million healthy individuals”.

The criticisms come after NICE issued draft guidance earlier this year recommending that cholesterol-lowering statins should be prescribed to all patients with at least a 10 per cent risk of heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years.

In their letter, the doctors said they were “seriously concerned that eight members of NICE’s panel of 12 experts for its latest guidance have direct financial ties to the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture statins”. They also warn that “overdependence on industry data raises concerns about possible biases”.

Statins – taken by seven million people in the UK – are recommended for patients with a 20 per cent risk of cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years. While their benefits at cutting heart attack and stroke risk are not disputed, it has been claimed that industry-led studies had under-estimated the extent of statins’ side effects. Some doctors fear in otherwise healthy individuals, the drugs may do more harm than good.

The doctors want the new guidance withdrawn until all data from statins’ trials is made available to “credible researchers”. In response to the criticisms, NICE said there was “no credible argument against [statins’] safety and clinical effectiveness” for patients with a 10 per cent risk.

Professor Mark Baker, director of NICE’s centre for clinical practice, added: “Our approach is transparent, rigorous and sensible… Concerns about hidden data and bias the pharmaceutical industry may or may not have are important issues and need to be resolved. NICE is part of the effort to do that but... we need to act in the best interests of patients on the basis of what we know now.”

Statins Q&A

What are the concerns around statins?

There are no major concerns about statins themselves – it is more a question of who should be taking them. New draft guidance from NICE proposes to significantly lower the ‘treatment threshold’ so that millions more people at a lower risk of heart attack or stroke would be given them.

Why would that be a problem?

Many experts say it wouldn’t, and would save lives. But others say that NICE is recommending statins for patients who have such low risk, that it would be unnecessary and expensive to give them statins, and the only beneficiaries would be the pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs.

What about the side effects?

Like all drugs statins have some side effects, but in high risk patients these are negligible compared to their benefits in cutting the chances of heart disease. But some studies have shown higher rates of the side effects – including muscle pain and increased likelihood of diabetes – and many doctors argue these could outweigh the small benefits that taking a statin would achieve for low risk patients.

Why is there no scientific consensus based on the evidence?

Some of the key findings on statins effectiveness and side effects comes from industry-funded studies. There is also a great deal of data which has not been made available for all researchers to see. Many doctors have argued that NICE should not make recommendations until all the data on statins is made available to all researchers.

Should I carry on taking my statins?

Absolutely, yes. The current guidance, under which you will have been prescribed a statin, is not disputed.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?