Life-saving heart drugs should be available free to all, not just the few, says The King's Fund

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The King's Fund today welcomed the government's decision to increase choice for patients at high risk of cardiac disease by making statins available over-the-counter in pharmacies, but warned the decision to make some patients pay for the potentially life-saving drugs would increase health inequalities.

The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'Over-the-counter statins have the potential to save many lives and should be provided equitably and available to all patients who could benefit at NHS expense - not just to those who are most at risk. Today's decision appears to be motivated by cost, rather than clinical reasons, but patients should not have to pay for their own preventative health care.

'The cost of statins should not be passed from the NHS onto the patient. There is a real danger that people on low incomes who face a less than 30 per cent chance of a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years, but who would have to pay for these drugs, would not have the money to do so.

'This is another example of the creeping charges emerging in the NHS. We have already seen this in dentistry, ophthalmology and other areas of the health service. These charges have developed with no clear explanation of why they exist and we are now left with a complex system, riddled with unfairness and inconsistencies that compounds existing health inequalities and penalises the poor. A major review of the system of NHS charges – for prescriptions, dentistry, eye tests, glasses and so on – is urgently needed.'

Notes to editors

1. For further information or interviews with King's Fund staff, please contact the King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585.

2. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.