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Growth in GP drug prescriptions

Published on 11/12/12 at 09:34am
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The volume of GP-prescribed drugs grew by an annual average of 8.4% in the years 1995-2010, according to new government figures.

While on the face of it the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data is good news for pharma, critics will point to the fact that the cost of branded drugs is relatively low in the NHS. 

The Department of Health’s own annual report and accounts for 2011-2012 showed that the prescribing costs of Primary Care Trusts fell 0.4% to £8.2 billion year-on-year, despite the volume of drugs prescribed increasing by 3.9 per cent. 

The new ONS figures also show average productivity growth for publicly-funded healthcare was 0.4% a year between 1995 and 2010.

This is calculated by the extent to which the NHS delivers outputs - measured by primary care performance, short-term survival rates, health gain following hospital treatment and changes in waiting times, for instance - against inputs.

Inputs are elements like GP-prescribed drugs, pharma services, consultants and nurses as well as less obvious costs such as transport.

The 0.4% growth figure is a significant change from the ONS’s previous estimate of -0.2% per year between 1995 and 2009 - a difference it puts down to changes in methodology and the upward revision of output figures as better information becomes available.

The ONS also says costs for public sector health are increasing at an average of 2.4% per year, slightly faster than the 2.2% seen in the wider economy.

Between 1995 and 2010 the quantity of delivered healthcare grew at an annual average rate of 4.6% - although it was as high as 5.1% per year between 2002 and 2010.

Although the growth in GP-prescribed drugs is striking, it pales next to the fastest-growing area of activity - services funded by the NHS but provided by other organisations.

Such work, by private, voluntary or local government sector providers, increased by an average of 13.5% per year over the same period.

Typical services included continuing care for the elderly in community settings or nursing homes, mental health services and elective surgery procedures.

With both greater privatisation introduced into the NHS and the trend towards caring for people in or near their homes rather than in hospital, this figure is set to rise in future.

Adam Hill

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