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Energy firm npower gives its workers daily 'cure all' pills - before they fall ill
03-14-2010, 09:33 AM,
Energy firm npower gives its workers daily 'cure all' pills - before they fall ill
Quote:One of Britain's biggest companies is offering employees drugs to combat strokes and heart attacks - even though they are healthy.

Energy giant npower, which employs 12,000 UK workers, has signed up to a scheme offering staff daily doses of 'polypills'.

The tablets are a combination of several drugs and are normally only available on prescription to people with high blood pressure.

More than 100 healthy employees have signed up to the project which costs them each £180 a year.

Many employers offer workers drugs when they fall ill, such as Tamiflu during a flu pandemic. However, it is believed to be the first time a British company has given its employees the option to take preventative medication before they get sick.

However, some critics claim 'polypills' are an example of 'over-medication' and fear they may do more harm than good.

Conservative MP Philip Davies said: 'Companies do not have any business encouraging employees to take medication in their private lives. Npower should concentrate on ensuring the security of Britain's energy supply and leave prescriptions to doctors.'

Joe Korner, of the Stroke Association, said: 'This all sounds very strange - almost like a research trial. People with normal blood pressure would not be able to get these drugs prescribed if they went to their normal GP.

'We are against prescribing pills to people who do not need them. Every pill has side effects so if you can avoid taking them you should do so.

'Medication should be kept for people who need it.'

The pills taken by npower employees were developed by a team at the Wolfson Institute for Preventative Medicine at Queen Mary, University of London.

In 2006, Professor Sir Nicholas Wald and his son David developed the medication which includes tiny doses of bendrofluazide, amlodipine and lisinopril - all prescription drugs that lower blood pressure and reduce risk of strokes and heart attacks.

'Polypills' - one tablet containing several different drugs - are a recent development and are not yet licensed in the UK so Dr David Wald prescribes the components separately to each npower worker following an assessment.

Once they have signed up, regular doses of the drugs are posted to the employees every six weeks.

The Wolfson Institute receives funding from several large pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Pfizer. Lisinopril is manufactured by GSK.

John McCaul, head of occupational health at npower, heard of the project and decided to run a trial in 2008, offering workers at its offices in Swindon, Wiltshire, and Didcot, Oxfordshire, the chance to take daily doses.

The pilot was popular among participants and the offer was rolled out nationally last year. More than than 100 npower employees have so far been prescribed the pills by Dr Wald. They are 55 or over and therefore deemed 'at risk' of strokes and heart attacks.

'If a worker suffers a heart attack it is not only a tragedy for that person and his family, it is also a tragedy for the company who trains and employs him,' said Sir Nicholas Wald.

'This project is an attempt to see if preventative medication can be used for occupational health purposes.'

Dr David Wald said: 'With ageing populations there is an appreciation among employers that heart attacks and strokes become more commonplace.

'The npower scheme is voluntary and there is no pressure on employees to take part.'

However, Mike Rich, of the Blood Pressure Association, said: 'Use of the ''polypill'' to avoid these serious health problems is an interesting idea, but other prevention methods, such as eating a low-salt, balanced diet and getting regular exercise, are well established.

'We're wary that if people think they can take a ''magic pill'' to avoid strokes and heart attacks, then there's a risk that they'll ignore these important lifestyle choices.'

A npower spokesman said: 'I have signed up to the scheme and I think it is great. Access to the Wolfson's polypill programme is only offered by npower to those who are 55 and over.

'Anyone younger who is taking medication will be doing so for defined medical reasons.

'Taking the polypill is complementary to adopting and maintaining a health lifestyle - including not smoking.'
The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall. - Che Guevara

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