The fallout from the controversial ABC Catalyst programs on heart disease continues, with a survey showing three out of four doctors have seen patients who have stopped, or are considering stopping, their cholesterol medication.
The first episode aired in October questioned the link between heart disease and cholesterol, whilst the second examined the widespread use of anti-cholesterol drugs known as statins.
The programs prompted a huge backlash, particularly from doctors and specialists who say statins have been clinically proven to cut the risk of heart disease.
The chief medical adviser to the National Heart Foundation, Professor James Tatoulis, says there are concerns in the medical community that if people stop taking their medication as a result of these programs, they could die.
"I think the really disappointing and very serious issue is that incorrect information which, in our view, was brought out by the Catalyst program, can influence people into things which they shouldn't be doing," he said.
In the aftermath of the program, the drug company Merck Sharp and Dohme, which makes statins, commissioned research company Cegedim to survey GPs about the program.
Three weeks later Cegedim did a second survey of 150 GPs, the results of which have just been released.
It shows three out of four doctors had patients who had stopped their medication or were considering it because of the Catalyst program.
Of those patients 40 per cent had already stopped, and more than half were at high risk.
"High-risk people [are those] that already have acknowledged cardiovascular disease with angina or heart attacks in the past, or stents or bypass surgery," Professor Tatoulis said.
"All those people are at massive risk and if they've stopped their medication, then I think it really will result in an escalation of events that we will see over ensuing weeks, months and years."
Sydney University's Clinical Associate Professor David Sullivan is a leading lipidologist who says he has seen an increase in patients seeking information about cholesterol drugs.
"My individual patients have been concerned and have wanted to review their own individual circumstances," he said.
"We've put on extra clinics. We're very sensitive about our waiting times and they've ballooned out in a very unacceptable sort of fashion."
The usual waiting time for an appointment with Professor Sullivan is two or three months, but now he will not see new patients until the middle of next year.
"We do regard those [cholesterol drug] treatments as potentially lifesaving," he said.
"If people do not resume those necessary treatments, risk factors will increase, cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke are likely to increase.