No more Mr NICE guy.
It seems that Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has now given up any pretence to being a centre of best practice solely concerned with issuing guidance over what’s best for the nation’s health, but is more intent on dancing to the tune of Big Pharma.
Eight members of NICE’s 12-strong panel have financial links to drugs companies that produce statins – and they are now recommending that doctors prescribe “millions more” of them, which leading doctors say could be a public health disaster.
By Sophie Borland
Millions of healthy Britons are about to be given statins needlessly and exposed to debilitating side effects which include muscle pain and diabetes, leading doctors warn.
They say NHS proposals to radically increase the uptake of the drugs are a ‘public health disaster’ that will cause harm to many patients.
The group – which includes cardiologists, and senior GPs – is urging the government and the NHS drugs watchdog NICE to halt the plans. They also claim that eight of the 12-strong panel of experts who are drawing up the guidelines have financial links to drugs firms making statins – which stand to make a profit.
About seven million patients in Britain take statins to lower the cholesterol in their blood to prevent heart attacks and strokes. They are predominantly given to over-65s who have been diagnosed with heart disease or have a high risk of developing it based on their family history or lifestyle.
But in February, NICE – National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – published draft guidance advising GPs to prescribe statins to anyone with a 10 per cent risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke within the next decade. It claims this could save many lives at a minimum cost to the NHS as the drugs cost as little as 10p each.
Experts say this would lead to the drugs being given to between five and ten million additional patients.
NICE will publish its final guidelines next month.
But the group of doctors say there is no evidence that giving statins to healthy people increases their life expectancy.
The group wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to warn of the consequences of increasing statin prescriptions.
On the contrary, they point to evidence showing they increased the risk of diabetes in middle-aged women by 48 per cent and cause fatigue and muscle pain.
The group also accuse NICE of looking only at evidence about benefits and possible side effects of statins that have been provided by drugs firms, which could be biased.
The leading doctors also argue that rather than prescribing statins, the NHS should be encouraging patients to lose weight and take more exercise.
In a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and NICE, they wrote: “The consequences of not withdrawing this guidance are worrying: harm to many patients over many years, and the loss of public and professional faith in NICE as an independent assessor.”