Professor Sir Nicholas Wald said prescribing cholesterol-busting statins and blood pressure pills based on age alone would be much easier and quicker than the current system.
However, concerns about the side-effects of the drugs mean that the proposal would be controversial. [...]Addressing the concerns, Sir Nicholas said the benefits would easily outweigh the risks.
Once upon a time, there was a fit and healthy man in his early seventies. At his GP's request, he visited the surgery for a check-up, where he was poked and prodded in the customary manner before being told that his BMI and cholesterol levels were 'rising' - not 'high' or 'elevated'; just slightly above the previous reading.
The GP prescribed statins - this was at the beginning of the statins-for-all campaign as media doctors got on the bandwaggon - and the man, being a cooperative sort, obediently took them.
This man had a healthy lifestyle - didn't smoke or drink, ate well and took plenty of outdoor exercise - and was seldom ill, so when he started to feel unwell soon afterwards he went back to the doctor.
'Side-effects, that's all', said the doctor, and changed the brand of pills. Things were no better, so the man went back again and asked the GP to investigate. 'No need', said the GP, 'It's just side-effects of the statins' and the pills were changed once more.
The symptoms multiplied and still the doctor refused to carry out further tests - 'It's just a case of finding out the correct dose'. For over a year, things went from bad to worse until, in desperation, the man sought a second opinion.
The second opinion was unequivocal - aggressive cancer, now so far advanced that there was nothing left but palliative care; with supreme irony, detailed scans showed that the patient's cardio-vascular system was in excellent condition. The statins, now replaced by increasing doses of morphine, had been completely unnecessary.
This cannot be an isolated case, yet I have seen nothing in the concern expressed about side-effects mentioning that they may mask the symptoms of cancer and other serious conditions. I suppose that is one of the risks that is 'easily outweighed' by the benefits of statins for all.
That's the trouble with the way Sir Nicholas and his kind think of patients; as figures on a chart - one unnecessary death from cancer set against the prevention of several heart attacks constitutes an acceptable risk.
Mathematically that may be true, but I wonder if he - and his family - would still think so were he the one?
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