Heart drug simvastatin will be available without a prescription

People will be able to get a drug that can reduce the risk of heart attacks without a prescription from this summer, the government announced today.

Coronary heart disease kills more than 110,000 people in England every year and is the country's single biggest killer. By lowering cholesterol levels, statins can reduce heart attacks by up to one third after three years of taking the drug.

The drugs are currently prescribed to 1.8m people and are thought to save up to 7,000 lives each year. Now the expert Committee on Safety of Medicines has advised that one of the drugs, called simvastatin, should be available without prescription in a 10mg dose. Present guidelines suggest to doctors that they prescribe statins for patients who have a 30 per cent chance of heart attack within the next 10 years.

Accepting the committee's recommendation, Health Secretary John Reid said the move would allow more people to protect themselves from the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks:

"We have already seen a 23 per cent fall in premature death rates from heart disease and stroke over the past five years, on line to meet our target of a 40 per cent reduction by 2010.

"By extending access to this drug we are giving people more choice about how they protect their health. We are committed to extending choice whenever advised it is safe to do so."

Pharmacists will ask people who want to buy the drug a series of questions and, where appropriate, offer a range of health tests to ensure that it is safe to issue this drug. Statins will still be available on prescription as well.

The Committee on Safety of Medicines is an independent committee of experts that advises government on the safety, quality and effectiveness of medicines. Simvastatin has been available in the UK for the last 14 years. It has been used by millions of people worldwide and has a well-established safety record. http://www.ukonline.gov.uk 

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