NHS England has announced plans for a review led by pharmacy director Dr Keith Ridge and newly-appointed primary care director Dr Nikita Kanani, to look at whether high street pharmacies could dispense the drugs without patients needing a prescription from their GP.
Officials believe that making 'the most effective and powerful versions' of statins available without a prescription 'could prevent thousands more deaths and countless more heart attacks and strokes'.
Announcing the review, NHS England cited an estimate that 'as many as two-thirds of people most at risk of heart attack and stroke do not take statins, but would benefit from doing so'.
However, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard called for caution, warning it was vital for any intervention backed by the NHS to be evidence-based and 'in the best interests of patients'.
'Extensive medical evidence has shown that statins are usually a safe and effective preventative measure against heart disease, and thousands of patients already benefit from statin therapy,' the college chair said.
'But 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 an individual patients, based on their individual circumstances – and after a frank conversation about the potential risks and benefits.'
Speaking at the NHS Expo conference in Manchester, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: '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.'
The NHS long-term plan, published in January, said that local NHS teams will actively identify and support more people living with high cholesterol who could benefit from statins.