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High dose statins could be made available at high street pharmacies without a prescription, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens has announced.

Chief pharmaceutical officer, Dr Keith Ridge, and the newly-appointed primary care director, Dr Nikki Kanani, will look at how stronger versions of statins could be provided by high street pharmacists, he said, adding that the move was part of the NHS Long Term Plan to cut heart disease and stroke.

The findings of an NHSE review will be presented to medicine manufacturers and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who will have the final say.

However, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has taken exception to the proposal arguing that it could lead to people being misdiagnosed and wrongly treated by pharmacists.

Chair of the Royal College of GPs Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that GPs were concerned about “the risks of overdiagnosis and over-treatment” and “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… Prevention is important, but it is essential that any NHS intervention to promote it is evidence-based, and in the best interests of patients.”

Speaking at the Expo Health and Care Innovation conference in Manchester on Wednesday, NHS chief executive Stevens said: “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.”

Chief pharmaceutical officer Ridge said: “Hundreds of thousands of people could benefit if industry committed more research and investment in bringing high-dose statins to the high street, and the NHS is going to be driving forward these efforts, as we save thousands of lives from deadly heart attacks and strokes as part of our Long Term Plan.”

Making high dose statins available over the counter is expected to prevent thousands of deaths and countless more heart attacks and strokes.

Welcoming the announcement, the National Pharmacy Association praised Stevens for using a high profile platform to recognise pharmacists’ clinical skills and appreciate community pharmacy.

“This week we’ve had three pieces of good news from the NHS – announcements on blood pressure testing, urgent care and now access to vital medicines in pharmacy. Although the underlying situation for pharmacies is extremely pressured, we should acknowledge positive developments like these and show our willingness to engage,” NPA chief executive Mark Lyonette said.

Meanwhile, The Guardian newspaper reported that the British Heart Foundation (BHF) also had concerns about whether pharmacists were the right people to take on this new role.

It quoted Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, the BHF’s medical director, as saying: “Currently, high-dose statins are used in patients who have already had a heart attack or stroke as they are at very high risk of further events.

“For people who haven’t had a heart attack or stroke, starting a statin on a long-term basis is an important decision. It requires a dialogue between a patient and their GP or healthcare provider after an assessment of their overall risk and taking into account patient preference.”