People may be able to buy high dose statins over the counter from their local pharmacies in the future, the chief executive of NHS England said.

Simon Stevens has announced a review into how the most powerful and effective forms of the drug could be provided by high street chemists.

Low dose statins can be given over the counter, but are not generally made available by pharmaceutical firms, the NHS said.

Statins work by lowering the level of bad cholesterol, which leads to a build-up of fatty deposits and hardening arteries, causing increased risk of heart attack, stroke and coronary heart disease.

But it is estimated that as many as two-thirds of people most at risk of heart attack and stroke do not take the drugs.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens (Jeff Overs/BBC)
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens (Jeff Overs/BBC)

The NHS believes that making the most powerful forms of the drug available without a doctor’s prescription could prevent thousands of deaths from heart attacks and strokes.

Mr Stevens told the Expo health and care innovation conference in Manchester: “Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals who are greatly valued by patients.

“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.

“So the NHS will now work with the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) and industry to see how we can best make this happen.

“After cancer lung scanning trucks in supermarket car parks and high street heart checks, this is another step towards making care and treatment more accessible, convenient and effective.”

England’s top pharmacist Dr Keith Ridge and newly-appointed director of primary care, Dr Nikki Kanani, will lead the review.

Chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Ridge said: “Used appropriately, statins are effective and can save lives.

“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.”