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Latest dispensing figures hold no surprises

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It’s no surprise that, yet again, the number of prescription items dispensed in England has risen. A total of 1.06 billion items came from English pharmacies, dispensing doctors and others in 2014, up 3.3% on 2013, and a massive 55.2% since 2004. This means, in a decade, pharmacies are dispensing around 378.5m more items a year.

In fact, looking through the Health & Social Care Information Centre stats for 2014, there’s little surprise in any of the figures. Total cost has gone up, with the drugs bill now a whopping £8.85bn, but the average cost per item fell; on average, prescription items are £3.46 cheaper than a decade ago, now sitting at around £8.32 per item. This year’s data, due for release next year, may well be more interesting here; if the NHS prescription charge rises again, for the first time since records began the charge (currently £8.20) will exceed the average cost of items.

As for this charge, it’s telling that only levied for around 10% of items. Three in five prescriptions were for those aged 60 years and older, and around 5% of items were for those under 16 years (or under 19 and in full-time education).

Delving deeper into the figures, there’s no surprise in the cost of each category, either. The biggest rise in cost was for medicines to prevent blood clots — driven by the launch of direct thrombin inhibitors — which sent the cost skyrocketing by 48% to around £139m. The drug with the greatest increase in number of items isn’t a surprise either. Atorvastatin prescriptions rose by 4m items between 2013 and 2014, as the new National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance lowering thresholds for statins and recommending it as the drug of choice came in to play.

All in all, the latest figures on dispensing in England hold no surprises at all. The only question is how long community pharmacies can manage the relentless increase in demand.

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