Millions of elderly are 'needlessly' being given statins
Statins are being needlessly prescribed to millions of people simply because of their age, the Royal College of GPs in the UK has warned.
The RCGP called for an end to the "blanket" prescription of statins for older people, many of whom are at a low risk of heart disease.
Current guidelines risk unnecessarily "medicalising" swathes of the population at a time when resources are stretched, the RCGP said.
The warning follows a study by Harvard University that found the risk criteria set by Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) makes nearly all men over 60 and all women over 75 eligible for the cholesterol-lowering drugs, simply by virtue of their age.
The RCGP, along with a range of academics, is calling for improved guidelines to slash the number of prescriptions for healthy adults.
While there is now a broad consensus statins are safe and effective in preventing cardiovascular disease, the benefit for someone whose cholesterol levels are sound is extremely low.
If 100 people with a 10pc, 10‑year, cardiovascular risk - the current Nice threshold - were to take statins for a decade, then just four would be saved from the condition.
To start being prescribed the drugs, a patient needs a blood test followed by a GP consultation. They must then undergo a follow-up liver function test after a few months, with annual blood tests and accompanying GP or specialist nurse consultations thereafter.
"We should be focusing on those who are at higher risk rather than attempting blanket policies that, at an individual level, have a very limited benefit," said Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP.
"As with any drug, taking statin medication has potential side-effects, and taking any medication long term is a substantial undertaking for patients."
Before 2014, Nice recommended statins for people with a 20pc chance of developing cardiovascular disease within a decade, but then halved the threshold.
Researchers found age was the dominant factor in assessing risk, meaning millions of people become eligible for the drug even when other factors, such as blood pressure, cholesterol level and lifestyle, show no risk.