- Prescribing Advice for GPs - https://www.prescriber.org.uk -


A recommendation has already been made regarding changing statin therapy following the implementation of the new Pharmacy Contract.

There is much discussion at present about the likely changes to the GMS contract and the targets contained within it regarding cholesterol. Broadly speaking there are two sides to the argument, the "fire and forget" approach and the "treat to target" approach. The treat to target approach is firmly contained in the current contract and rumours abound that the target is likely to be lowered for next year. The evidence to support this approach is growing but as yet is not entirely persuasive.

It would be prudent in any eventually to take a stepped approach to treatment to ensure that whatever happens, prescribers are prepared to tailor treatments to gain maximum benefit for as many patients as possible. Using the most cost effective and evidence based statins as first line will help to achieve this goal.

The 4S1 and HPS2 studies have shown that Simvastatin is an effective and well tolerated drug. It reduces cholesterol by 30% at the 40mg strength and has evidence to prove its benefits in saving patients lives. Simvastatin is unprecedented as the choice for lipid lowering.

In situation where Simvastatin 40mg does not get the patient to the required target, first consider if the patient is taking the medication and if they are still eating a healthy diet before altering the treatment. Where a treatment alteration is required, Atorvastatin 40mg is a more potent cholesterol reducing agent albeit with a lower level of evidence in terms of cardiovascular event outcomes.

Finally, if Atorvastatin 40mg fails to attain prescribers should consider the most appropriate way forward for the patient in question. Options include accepting the current cholesterol level, increasing the dose of the statin, adding in another lipid lowering agent or referring to a specialist.

Action: Implement and use a stepped approach to lipid management as follows:


  1. The Scandinavian Simvastatin Survival Study Group. Randomized Trial of cholesterol lowering in 4444 patients with coronary heart disease. Lancet 1994;344:1383-1389
  2. Heart Protection Study Collaborative Group. MRC/BHF Heart Protection Study of cholesterol lowering with simvastatin in 20,536 high risk individuals: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet 2002; 360: 7-22M