Making the best use of taxpayers’ money

Family doctors in the Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) area are contacting patients about an initiative involving cholesterol-lowering drugs that will save £2.8m a year.

The aim is for 80% of patients who take the drugs, which are called statins and which have proved to be one of the great breakthroughs in preventative medicine, to be prescribed a type called simvastatin.

Simvastatin has been available for several years and offers much better value for money than other statins. Studies have shown that for the majority of patients newer branded statins are no more effective but significantly more expensive. The small proportion of patients who are prescribed statins but who may not be suitable for simvastatin will continue to use other types.

Dr Peter Bradley, Director of Public Health for Suffolk PCT, said: "Many practices are already switching to simvastatin but we need GPs to speed up this process if we're going to achieve the 80% target within the next six months," he said.

"We believe it would be wrong not to ask people to change because it means the NHS would be knowingly wasting public money.

"Nationally, a number of PCTs are achieving simvastatin prescribing rates in excess of 75% and eight have already exceeded 80%. Locally, a number of practices have switched and are already approaching this 80% target.

"These practices have not reported any clinical problems and patient acceptance has been high."

Currently in the Suffolk PCT area, which covers the whole county except Waveney, about £800,000 a year is spent on simvastatin and £5.6m on other statins. Currently, 44% of all statins prescriptions are for simvastatin.

It is East of England Strategic Health Authority policy to achieve the 80% target by 31 March next year which it estimates could save a total of £24m every year across the six counties.

Professor Roger Boyle, National Director for Heart Disease and Stroke (the Government's so-called "heart tsar"), has already supported the approach being taken by the SHA.

There is robust clinical evidence that statins reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in patients of all ages, up the age of 80, and that they bring about a reduction in total cholesterol and in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, sometimes known as "bad cholesterol".

Prescriptions for statins form the largest part of the NHS drug bill and are increasing by 30% every year in England.

Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend that many people at higher risk of cardiovascular disease be prescribed statins on the NHS. This is likely to result in a sharp rise in the number of prescriptions, with about 14% of the adult population having a need for a statin.

Increasing the level of generic prescribing is a long-term Department of Health objective.

Lowering cholesterol is only one of the changes which may help to prevent heart attacks and stroke. It is just as important to exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and eat a well-balanced diet. 

Stopping smoking is the most effective method of preventing heart disease and stroke.

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Notes to editors:

1, The patent for simvastatin has now expired which means it is available as a generic cheaper version. When a drug is first invented the company that developed it patents it, which stops other companies copying it. After a number of years the patent runs out and other companies can copy it. The competition then drives down the price of the drug.

2, For more information about Suffolk PCT visit our website at

For further information:

Contact Mark Prentice or Isabel Cockayne from Geronimo Communications on 01284 768935.

19 October 2006

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