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Doctors prescribe 1 billion items a year

Prescriptions have risen 62% in past decade, says HSCIC

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Doctors are now prescribing more than 1 billion items a year in England, according to new figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

The number of prescription items dispensed in the community per year topped one billion for the first time in 2012, said the HSCIC in a new report, which was the equivalent of 2.7million a day, or over 1,900 a minute.

Those 1000.5 million items dispensed in England mean that there has been a rise of almost two thirds (62.2%, or 383.5 million) compared to a decade ago, but the net cost of current prescribing is down to 2009 levels.

Prescription items listed on a single prescription form, have also risen per head of the population from 12.4 in 2002 to 18.7 in 2012.

The HSCIC said that despite the year on year rise in items prescribed, there had been a fall in total net cost of items to the NHS for the second year running. This figure stood at £8.5 billion in 2012, which is similar to the total net cost in 2009. In 2002 the figure was £6.8 billion.

Cost per item fell from £11.10 in 2002 to £8.50 in 2012 and has been falling every year since 2004.

The NHS is now spending more per person on prescriptions as the net cost per head of the population increased from £137.80 in 2002 to £159.33 in 2012, but this has fluctuated in recent times and peaked at £167.80 in 2010.

The HSCIC said part of the reason for growing prescription numbers was a larger and aging population, while the fall in cost was partly due to patents having expired for several leading medicines at the same time as generic alternatives becoming available.

Many of the prescription items and cost was for preventing or managing long-term conditions.

Prescriptions to treat diabetes, for example, accounted for the biggest net cost by treatment area for the sixth year running at £767.9 million, a 2.2% rise on 2011.

In total, 42.2 million items were dispensed for diabetes – a 5.4% increase on 2011.

The number and net cost of antibiotics rose compared with the previous year – net cost increased by 14.8% (£25.1 million) to reach £195.5 million, while items increased by 6.1% (2.5 million) to reach 43.3 million.

HSCIC chair Kingsley Manning said: “For the first time, one billion prescription medicines have been dispensed to our communities in just one year.

“This figure reflects a continuing upward trend in prescription numbers, which is in contrast to a recent fall in total net cost. Total costs have fallen for the second year running and are now at 2009 levels. Our report shows that while people on average now receive more prescription items, the cost of these per head has dropped in the last two years.

“Today's report does therefore show both the way in which the volume of prescriptions required from the NHS is moving, and that the NHS has been able to manage the cost impact.”

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