Britain's health regulations governing how many people receive drugs to combat heart disease are the "least effective in Europe", it has been claimed.
A report by scientists from Australia, Iran and the UK published today in the British Medical Journal's online periodical suggests that the number of people eligible for cholesterol-lowering drugs, controlled by the National Health Service Framework (NSF) on heart disease, is lower than should be the case because of cost-cutting imperatives.
Rather than spending money on providing drugs for all those at risk of heart disease, the NSF prefers a cheaper option of targeting statins, the cholesterol-tackling drugs, exclusively at those with a much higher threshold of risk.
"The advent of statin treatment has raised fundamental issues for both medical practitioners and for society," the report states.
It suggests that the only effective way of reducing the risk of heart disease universally would be to provide statins for all middle-aged and elderly people, a decision which the report says would profoundly affect the nation's health.
Heart disease remains the country's biggest killer, with 106,000 people dying in 2004 from cardiovascular problems.
The number of statin prescriptions in the UK has risen 17 times in the last decade to nearly 30 million every year.