The UK National Health Service could save at least £85 million a year through more efficient prescribing of cholesterol-lowering statins, says a new report from the Department of Health.

The volume of statin prescribing has gone up over 150% in the last five years, costing the NHS around £600 million in 2005, it says. However the costs of statins vary markedly, depending on whether they are branded drugs generics.

The report shows Primary Care Trust prescribing levels for generic versions of pravastatin and simvastatin, two of the five statins currently approved for use within the UK. They indicate that if every PCT prescribed pravastatin and simvastatin in 69% of cases, the level achieved by the top quarter of Trusts, over £84.7 million could be saved in a year.

“As new drugs become available, the local NHS will increasingly have to look closely at the resources it spends on common treatments to ensure it is getting value for money,” said Health Minister Andy Burnham. “Statin prescription is one of the areas that can release the most savings which can be ploughed back into patient care.

Clinicians can help to treat more patients by prescribing one of the lower cost drugs where it is clinically appropriate. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has confirmed that generic versions of statins are as effective for most patients as their more expensive, branded counterparts,” he added. By Lynne Taylor