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There is broad agreement that statin treatment should be targeted at absolute coronary heart disease (CHD) risk but no consensus on the level of risk to target. We have examined the implications of adopting three different treatment policies for the management of hypertensive patients in the UK using data from treated hypertensives aged 35–69 years included in the Health Survey for England (1993).We calculated the proportion of hypertensive patients with existing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease requiring statin treatment for secondary prevention of CHD. For those without atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (primary prevention), we estimated CHD risk from the Framingham equation and examined the proportion with CHD risk exceeding thresholds of 4.5, 3 and 1.5% per year.Twenty-one percent of treated hypertensives would require statin treatment for secondary prevention of CHD. When the CHD event threshold for statin treatment was set at ≥ 4.5% per year [equivalent to a number needed to treat (NNT) in 5 years of 13] a further 0.6% of hypertensive patients were identified for treatment; at a threshold of 3.0% per year (NNT = 20) 5.5% of patients were identified for primary prevention; and at a threshold of 1.5% per year (NNT = 40) 28.5% of patients were identified for primary prevention.Those needing secondary prevention are first priority for statins and 21% of hypertensive patients will require treatment. Formulation of guidelines for primary prevention should take into account the NNT; the proportion of patients targeted for treatment; the cost-effectiveness and the total cost of treatment. Current British guidance will entail treating an additional 5.5% of hypertensive patients for primary prevention and therefore 27% of hypertensive patients.