Doctors who cast doubt on the effectiveness of statins are ‘needlessly’ risking lives, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock warns today.
In a passionate intervention, he has thrown his weight behind a Mail on Sunday campaign to fight ‘fake’ claims about proven medicines. Condemning those who peddle myths about the daily pills, Mr Hancock said: ‘Medical evidence shows that statins save lives.
‘Needlessly risking people’s health by spreading reckless and ignorant misinformation claiming otherwise is completely unjustified.’
About eight million Britons take statins, which can substantially reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by lowering cholesterol – a fatty substance that contributes to the blocking of arteries – in the blood.
Doctors who cast doubt on the effectiveness of statins are ‘needlessly’ risking lives, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) warns today
However, some medics dispute the benefits and a few wrongly assert they can cause serious and widespread damage to health. Inaccurate claims by ‘statin deniers’ include that high cholesterol is not linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. These rely on small, observational studies rather than ‘gold standard’ randomised controlled trials over many years that show statins do cut deaths from heart attacks and strokes.
The Health Secretary said: ‘These kind of pernicious lies have no place in our NHS and I welcome The Mail on Sunday’s work to shine a light on the scale of the problem. As part of our Long Term Plan for the NHS, we want to save thousands more lives from preventable conditions such as heart disease and strokes.
‘Medicines such as statins can and do play a huge role in keeping people at risk of cardiovascular disease healthy. I strongly urge anyone who is prescribed them to listen to the advice of their doctors and nurses.’
Doctors can prescribe statins if a patient is assessed as having a ten per cent chance or greater of having a cardiovascular ‘event’ over the next decade. However, a recent analysis by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine estimated that scare stories may have resulted in 200,000 patients who need the drug giving it up in a period of just six months.
Statins (pictured) are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood
Dr Matt Kearney, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, said: ‘There is overwhelming evidence that statins prevent heart attacks and strokes and that they are safe. But if patients get worried by false, alarmist or misleading reports they see on social media and in the press and, as a result, decide not to take these life-saving medicines, they can end up making the wrong decision about how to stay well, and cause themselves real harm.’
The Mail on Sunday campaign comes amid growing concern about the erosion of trust in mainstream, evidence-based medicines caused by ‘fake news’ on the internet. On Friday, NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens warned that ‘vaccine deniers’ who went online to spout ‘fake messages’ were making it harder for doctors to ‘win the public argument’ on vaccination.
He told a meeting at the Nuffield Trust think-tank: ‘The vaccination deniers are getting some traction. Although nine in ten parents support vaccination, half of them say they have seen fake messages about vaccination on social media.’