Last week I appeared on BBC Breakfast news to discuss calls from the UK’s Academy of Medical Sciences for more preventative medicines. In effect more healthy people to be taking medications to prevent the onset of disease. I have no issue with this as a concept but one of the reasons our current healthcare system is close to breaking point is that we have an overmedicated population with a total lack of transparency in the prescription of drugs. Often benefits are grossly exaggerated and side effects underplayed. If I was going to take a pill every day for many years I would want to know what is my actual benefit and what are/how common are the side effects that may interfere with my quality of life?
For example, taking statins for those at low risk (<20%) of developing cardiovascular disease in the next ten years independent evidence tells us that this pill will not prolong life by one day. If your risk is 10% or less then published literature calculates there is a 1/140 chance it will prevent a non fatal heart attack or stroke and we’re more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as a result of taking the statin.
Another way of looking at it is overall for those without established heart disease a statin will prolong your life on average by 3 days if taken for 5 years according to the “published” medical literature.
These are some of the most important questions we should be asking when we see the doctor when it comes to any test or treatment. Do I really need this test or procedure? What are the risks? Are there simpler, safer options? What happens if I do nothing?
If you want to know more please read this full paper I wrote in the British Medical Journal earlier this year which also had co-authorship of the current chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges Professor Dame Sue Bailey and the past Chair who is now chair of the General Medical Council Professor Terence Stephenson.
Here’s the link to the BBC story online with Doctor Aseem Malhotra’s comments and here’s the full interview: