GIVING healthy people statins is a waste of NHS cash and could do more harm than good, experts warn.
They say the cholesterol-busting pills are beneficial for heart attack and stroke patients.
But the benefits for most people with no history of cardiovascular disease are “marginal at best”.
The researchers also point to studies linking statins to an increased risk of muscle problems, diabetes and haemorrhagic stroke.
Around 12million Brits — one in three of over-30s — qualify for the 4p-a-day drugs under NHS guidelines.
Doctors consider factors such as age, ethnicity and smoking status when prescribing.
CUT BAD CHOLESTEROL
The pills cut bad cholesterol in the blood and help prevent arteries being blocked with fatty plaques.
But an article in the British Medical Journal argues the benefits remain unclear for many people.
Susan Smith, of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, says a high-risk patient could slash their ten-year risk of cardiovascular disease from 38 to 29 per cent with statins.
But a low-risk patient may only see their odds fall from an already small 1.4 per cent to 0.8 per cent.
Professor Smith and her colleagues say this reduction is so tiny it may not justify taking a daily pill.
Her team also looked at the introduction of 2016 European guidelines recommending more people be given statins.
They found the proportion of over-50s in Ireland eligible for statins increased from eight per cent in 1987 to 61 per cent.
This meant 400 of the lowest-risk patients needed pills to prevent one heart attack or stroke in 2016 — up from 40 in 1987.
‘BENEFITS FOR SOME’
The experts did say there are clear benefits for some.
But they added: “Serious questions remain about statins’ benefit and acceptability for primary prevention, particularly in patients at low risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Statins, in this context, may be an example of low-value care (having little benefit and potential to cause harm) in these patients and, in some cases, represent a waste of resources.”
Doctors issued more than 96million NHS prescriptions for statins in England last year.
Prof Metin Avkiran, from the British Heart Foundation, said: “People who fall into the low-risk category should arrive at a decision together with their GPs.”
Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, from the Royal College of GPs, said it had previously voiced concern about lowering the threshold.
She added: “GPs are highly trained to prescribe and will only do so if they think it is in the best interests of the patient.”