Statins: medicine sprinkles its pills but this ain’t no fairy dust

When a news story features as a topic of conversation in the queue for the school play you know something is happening, right?

On Friday I overheard two parents talking about statins while waiting for the doors to open for the final performance of the ‘Aristocrats.’

Earlier in the day the National Institute for Healthcare Excellence (NICHE) had said many millions more people should be prescribed statins than are now on them, to prevent heart disease. Cue an unholy row within the medical profession as to whether the evidence really does support such a directive? And an inevitable slew of
post-announcement stories about the harmful effects of statins.

‘You don’t know what to believe any more do you?’ said one parent. ‘It can’t be good for you to keep taking all these pills, though’ said another.

Yes, it all leaves you and me – the citizen – just a little bit stranded.

When I heard the news come over the wireless on Friday morning my first reaction was that NICE had taken leave of its senses. Not so much because of what it said but how it said it?

Here we were, 18 million adults being crammed into the medical profession’s consulting room to be told what’s good for us. It sounded like the arrogant proclamation of a despotic nation. Not what would you want from your drugs regulator.

Surely it asked its communications people how it should handle the news sensitively and moderately? What did NICE’s Citizens Council think of the decision? And if they weren’t consulted why not, given the wider societal and cultural implications that an announcement of this sort has? We have significant ‘relationship’ issues with medicines – from taking too many to not taking the ones we are supposed too – as a society, and I can’t see how this helps.

In fact, given the ready divisions among doctors about the merits of statins, you have to question whether it was responsible to drop this sort of news on us from such a very great height and without a) some serious work beforehand on developing a clear message that
professional bodies and patient groups could stand behind and, b) putting some decision aids in the hands of citizens.

The exchange in the queue may cause many to worry. Or to shake their heads about the ignorance of people. But oddly it gives me reason to be optimistic. That people will treat what they are hearing with the best pill of all – a good dose of common sense.

Talk to your doctor.

The play was good by the way.

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