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Volume 406: debated on Friday 23 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what timetable the Minister envisages for selling cholesterol lowering statins over the pharmacy counter; and how he will seek to prevent inequalities arising between those who can and cannot afford the drugs. [114589]

Any application to change the legal status of a particular medicine for lowering blood cholesterol will be carefully considered against the criteria for prescription-only status set out in European and UK Legislation and would be subject to public consultation. Following changes to the law in April 2002, the process of re-classifying medicines has been streamlined and the time taken from application to grant of a new legal status, has been reduced from up to 18 months to around six.National Health Service prescribing for statins currently covers over a million patients at a cost of £546 million per year and prescribing is growing by a third each year. Analysis of prescribing suggests that there is a higher rate of prescribing in areas of greater need and that general practice is successfully ensuring that cholesterol lowering therapy is being offered in a way which will assist in the reduction of health inequalities. If cholesterol lowering drugs become available in pharmacies, general practitioners will continue to prescribe to their patients according to clinical need and we expect that this will continue to result in higher prescribing in areas of greater deprivation and ill health.