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Number of prescriptions dispensed in the community rises, but cost falls

More prescriptions were dispensed in the community in England in 2017, but the cost of prescriptions fell slightly.

According to data from NHS Digital, 1.11bn prescription items were dispensed in the community in 2017, an increase of 0.15% from 1.10bn in 2016.

The cost of prescriptions decreased by 0.41% from £9.20bn in 2016 to £9.17bn in 2017. The cost of the dispensed prescriptions is not necessarily the price the NHS paid but is based on the price listed in the national Drug Tariff or in standard price lists.

In terms of highest cost, the top 20 drugs and products dispensed in 2017 included fluticasone propionate, enteral nutrition, pregabalin, glucose blood testing reagents and insulin.

The prescribing of pregabalin has increased dramatically over the past decade, the figures show, from 54 million items dispensed in 2007, to the almost 216 million items dispensed in 2017. But last year’s figure was a big fall from a high the previous year, 2016, of nearly 315 million items dispensed. 

Although fluticasone propionate was ranked highest in terms of the total cost of medicine dispensed, the number of items dispensed decreased from more than 8 million items in 2014 to just under 6 million items in 2017.

In terms of items dispensed, atorvastatin ranked highest in 2017 with 37 million items, equal to £52m in net ingredient cost. Despite an increase in its use in the past decade, the price sharply decreased after its patent ended in 2012 with data from 2007 showing a cost of £347m despite only 11 million items being dispensed that year.

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said increases in the number of prescriptions were inevitable as people are living longer.

“For those living with multiple, complex conditions, this can sometimes mean being prescribed a variety of drugs to help them manage their health and reduce the risk of complications,” she said.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20204573

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