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Prescribing in England up 55% to £9bn over a decade

Published on 07/07/15 at 10:39am
The number of prescriptions dispensed in England is on the rise

The number of drugs issued in England continues to soar, according to the latest NHS figures which show prescribing in 2014 has risen by 55% in just ten years.

The figures published by the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre show that over one billion items were prescribed in 2014, which is an increase of 3.3% - or 34.5 million items - on 2013. The 2014 figure also represents an increase of 55.2%, or 378.5m items, on 2004.

The overall net ingredient cost of prescriptions in 2014 stood at £8.85 billion, an increase of 2.6% (£227.5 million) on the year before. However since 2004 this figure has increased by 9.6% (£773.0 million).

The report, Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2004-2014, looks at prescriptions dispensed in England at pharmacists and dispensing doctors’ practices – so largely covers primary care prescriptions and not those issued and dispensed at hospital pharmacies.

It reinforces an earlier report which also found patients are collecting record-high numbers of prescription items.

The report shows that the average cost of a prescription item dispensed in the community has fallen, by 29.4% since 2004. The average cost per prescription item of £8.32 in 2014 is slightly cheaper than the £8.37 in 2013 and a larger drop from the average cost of £11.78 in 2004.

In terms of individual drugs, the biggest rises in community prescriptions included:

• A 47.8% (£44.8 million) increase in spending on anti-blood clotting drugs to £138.6 million, which “was mainly driven by the greater use of three new oral anticoagulants”

• A 10.6% (£46.6 million) increase in the cost of medicines to treat epilepsy to £486.5 million, with “the majority of this additional figure was spent on pregabalin (£36.1million) and much of the remainder on gabapentin (£9 million)”

• A 7% (£55.3m) rise in the cost of anti-diabetes medicines to £849.1 million

• Large increases in the dispensing of atorvastatin to reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes, and antidepressant medicines.

The Government has vowed to crack down on medicines wastage, which it says costs the NHS £300 million a year. In a bid to "remind people of the cost of medicines", health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced plans to print the price of medicines costing over £20, along with the words ‘funded by the UK taxpayer’ on medicines.

According to the ABPI, branded, prescription medicines account for less than 10% of the total NHS expenditure medicines, and drugs that cost over £20 account for less than 10% of all medicines prescribed.

Lilian Anekwe

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