Confusion over statin dispute 'risks patient trust' in GP prescribing

The continuing dispute about the benefits and harms of statin treatment risks undermining confidence in GPs' treatment decisions, the profession warns.

Statins: patients rejecting therapy (Photo: SPL)
Statins: patients rejecting therapy (Photo: SPL)

A survey of 621 GPs for this magazine found half believe the debate will damage patients’ trust in GP prescribing.

Some patients are already refusing to start statin treatment as a result of the row, GPs said.

The long-running debate over statins erupted again in February when NICE proposed to slash the threshold for statin treatment, which would see millions more patients taking the drugs. 

In May, the authors of two BMJ papers withdrew claims that cast doubt on the proposals. The articles cited data from an uncontrolled, observational study and the authors incorrectly concluded that statin side-effects occur in 18-20% of patients, the journal said.

Since then, the MHRA has insisted the benefits of statins outweigh the risks.

However, last month, senior doctors reignited the row and called for NICE to abandon its plan, saying the benefits to low-risk patients do not justify lifelong use of the drugs.

Patients 'refusing to discuss statins'

In the survey, 49% said the dispute would damage patient trust in GP prescribing; 44% said it would not, while 7% didn’t know.

Surveyed GPs said some patients were now ‘totally confused’ by media coverage of the dispute, and they feared it might lead patients to question other treatments prescribed by their doctor.

Respondents said they were already seeing an effect on patients’ willingness to start statin treatment, with some asking for their treatment to be reviewed. A GP partner in England said some of his high-risk patients ‘flatly refuse to even discuss statins’.

GPs called for a clearer message on the evidence for statins. ‘Statins are too widely prescribed to have ambiguity,’ said one GP registrar.

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