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Delays in getting important drugs subsidised by the Federal Government can cost thousands of lives, WA researchers have warned, after finding delays in funding a cholesterol-lowering drug contributed to almost 1500 deaths in four years.

The University of WA study found restrictions on Australians eligible for government-subsidised statin drugs between 2002 and 2006 were linked to about 5355 heart attacks and strokes, including 1456 deaths.

Heart experts recommended in 2002 that more people with diabetes should have access to funded statins, even if they had no history of heart disease, but changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme were not adopted until 2006.

The researchers, led by Royal Perth Hospital's Michael Page, said many cardiovascular events might have been prevented if evidence about the benefits of statins in additional diabetic patients had been adopted immediately instead of four years later.

"It does not suggest any fault or negligence occurred that led to this delay in a politically complex subsidisation process," they wrote in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health this week.

But they said the case highlighted the impact of delaying using the latest research to work out which drugs should be subsidised.