PETER LLOYD: The National Heart Foundation says it’s “shocked” the ABC’s Catalyst program has disregarded evidence about the effectiveness of cholesterol drugs.
Last night Catalyst presented a program which questioned the worth of drugs known as statins, which are taken to help prevent cardiovascular disease.
The Heart Foundation’s CEO, Dr Lyn Roberts, says the organisation does not support the conclusions reached by the program.
She says she’s concerned that patients may be misled by Catalyst and could stop taking their medications.
David Mark is speaking to Dr Roberts.
DAVID MARK: Dr Roberts, why do you say that you are shocked by the way Catalyst in your words “disregarded evidence”.
LYN ROBERTS: I think with both of the programs that we’ve seen with Catalyst we’ve had a very US-based reflection on the evidence and we were very disappointed that it wasn’t put into the global context of the reliable medical and scientific literature.
And personally I would have like to have seen a few more Australians actually involved in the program, but that might be just being a bit parochial.
DAVID MARK: But does the nationality of a doctor have any impact or any effect on whether the information they’re presenting is credible or not?
LYN ROBERTS: I think it is important in this debate…
DAVID MARK: Why’s that?
LYN ROBERTS: Because the situation that you actually have in the US of course is different in some ways to what we actually have in Australia in the way that our authorities really assess and look at drugs for use.
A good example I think last night was at the introduction of the program started with direct to consumer advertising in the US, which of course is actually not possible to do here in Australia because the Government has a part of their regulations have said that we can’t have direct to consumer advertising.
DAVID MARK: The program was essentially making the point that anti-cholesterol drugs known as statins – essentially for most people who are taking them have no effect. In fact it quoted one doctor who says that statins will only benefit one or two patients in 100.
Do you believe that those figures are accurate?
LYN ROBERTS: Look I disagree with the evidence that the most people that are taking statins don’t get benefit from that. There’s really overwhelming evidence for those people, particularly those that have had heart disease or have had a stroke or a heart attack, that one of the most effective things that can be done for them is for them to be on statins and other medications so that they can prevent the occurrence of another heart attack.
Now if you’re looking at the general community who don’t have heart disease then you must look at the combination of risks that a person has and a GP really needs to do that through an absolute risk test and then assess then that cholesterol level in that mix to decide whether that needs to be treated or not.
DAVID MARK: Dr Lyn Roberts, yesterday Dr Maryanne Demasi, who was the reporter who put that program together for Catalyst, was interviewed by Peter Lloyd on PM. He asked her about the position of the National Heart Foundation, I wonder if I could just play you a short excerpt of that interview.
MARYANNE DEMASI: I think they’re concerned the same as Emily Banks is concerned: that people will stop taking their medication unnecessarily. But when we actually presented the scientific literature to them then, they were certainly supportive of it.
DAVID MARK: Is she correct when she says you were supportive of the scientific literature?
LYN ROBERTS: Absolutely not, I mean she hasn’t presented the scientific literature to me as the national CEO in terms of that and we actually have evidence today and during the week even after the first episode of Catalyst of grave concerns from General Practitioners, from nurses that are doing home visits where they’re going to see people at home who’ve actually said as a result of the program they’ve been really nervous about taking their statins and they’ve taken themselves off it.
I’ve been contacted by a number of cardiologists today who’ve told me that they’ve got patients phoning them really, really concerned about what they do and these are people that have already had, you know, something like a heart attack or have got well established heart disease.
So that’s our concern at the Heart Foundation. We really want people not to just watch this program and think that they really can… possibly you know take off their, you know stop their medications.
If they’ve got any concerns, we really urge people to go their GP, have that conversation in the context of their overall health and risk factors and the reasons why they’re on particular medications particularly statins.
DAVID MARK: So what are the nurses and cardiologists saying to those people, is it that message?
LYN ROBERTS: It is absolutely, and of course I guess they’re contacting us because they’re really, really concerned and want to share their concerns and frustrations about what’s actually happening at the community level.
And so I think it’s one thing to have an academic debate and from a Heart Foundation’s perspective we’re very open to having that discussion and debate. I think it’s another thing if we actually are going to have an impact on the community and potentially patients’ safety.
DAVID MARK: It seems to me the fundamental question here is what is the science, is the science correct. Is it?
LYN ROBERTS: Well I’m very confident in the science, we have very rigorous processes here that are run by the government in terms of being able to authenticate that research, verify it before the pharmaceutical companies have any opportunity of being able to bring a new drug onto the market here in Australia.
PETER LLOYD: That’s the Heart Foundation’s CEO, Dr Lyn Roberts. She was speaking to PM’s David Mark.