High street pharmacies may start selling statins without prescription in a bid to cut down on heart attacks and strokes, the NHS has announced.
The cholesterol-busting drugs are prescribed to people at high risk of heart disease and around six million people in the UK take them already.
But the health service said it could avoid 6,000 strokes and heart attacks over the next decade if 45 per cent of undiagnosed at-risk people started taking the pills.
The move comes after it was announced at the weekend that pharmacies would start carrying out on-the-spot heart health checks.
NHS bosses today announced they would carry out a review into how high-dose statins could be provided without prescription.
Weaker versions are already available over the counter - but NHS England says they are no substitute for the most effective kind.
But chemists may soon stock high-dose statins suitable for lowering cholesterol in people at serious risk of heart disease. Patients could be given on-the-spot health checks by a pharmacist.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said at the NHS Expo in Manchester today: 'Since the NHS will be funding local chemists to undertake health checks, it makes sense to consider whether there are a broader range of medicines that patients could access conveniently and locally on the high street.
Statins are the most commonly prescribed drug in the world and an estimated 30 per cent of all adults over the age of 40 are eligible to take them.
The cholesterol-lowering drugs are given to people believed to have a 10 per cent or higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease or having a heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years.
They are proven to help people who have suffered heart problems in the past, but experts say the thresholds may be too high, meaning benefits are outweighed by side effects for many people.
Nearly all men exceed the 10 per cent threshold by age 65, and all women do so by age 70 – regardless of their health.
Commonly reported side effects include headache, muscle pain and nausea, and statins can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis and vision problems or memory loss.
Research published in the Pharmaceutical Journal last year found taking a daily statin for five years after a heart attack extends your life by just four days, new research reveals.
And Dr Rita Redberg, professor at the University of California, San Francisco told CNN in January that of 100 people taking statins for five years without having had a heart attack or stroke, 'the best estimates are that one or two people will avoid a heart attack, and none will live longer, by taking statins.'
'So the NHS will now work with the MHRA and industry to see how we can best make this happen.
'After cancer lung scanning trucks in supermarket carparks and high street heart checks, this is another step towards making care and treatment more accessible, convenient and effective.'
The health service estimates that as many as two thirds of people who should take statins to lower their heart disease and stroke risk don't use the drugs.
Statins work by reducing the levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood, which can stick to the walls of arteries and clog them up.
This narrows the blood vessels, increasing blood pressure to put extra strain on the heart and raising the risk of a blood clot forming and travelling to the heart or brain.'
Read more: Pharmacies could start selling high-strength statins without prescription under NHS plan to prevent thousands more heart attacks and strokes (more Big Pharma propaganda)