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GPs prescribing diabetes drugs at a cost of over £1bn per year, show NHS data

The NHS spent over £1bn on diabetes drugs last year, accounting for over 11% of the total cost of prescribing in primary care, new figures have revealed.

The latest NHS Digital statistics also found that 53m items were prescribed for diabetes in 2017/18, 1m more than the year before, and 22m more than in 2007/08.

The report, published today, revealed that of the £8.9bn spent on primary care prescribing, £1.01bn (11.4%) was attributed to diabetes drugs.

Looking at quantity of items, it found that 5% of all 1.1bn items prescribed in primary care were for drugs used in diabetes.

The document said: ‘Since 2007/08, “drugs used in diabetes”, has accounted for the highest cost of any of the British National Formulary sections listed.

‘The number of items prescribed in England has increased every year since 2007/08. 53.4m items were prescribed for diabetes in 2017/18, up from 52.0m in 2016/17, and 30.8m in 2007/08.’

London-based GP and head of primary care at Imperial College London Professor Azeem Majeed, who specialises in diabetes, said: ‘The very high costs to the NHS of treating diabetes are an inevitable consequence of the increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in recent decades.'

‘We need effective strategies at both population and individual level, and changes in the obesogenic environment we live in, to reverse these adverse lifestyle- associated factors and bring down the prevalence of type 2 diabetes,’ he added.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard explained that while 'medication is essential' to help many patients manage their condition and live a good quality of life, lifestyle changes can 'prevent, delay, or sometimes even reverse type 2 diabetes'.

She said: 'GPs and our teams will have these often quite sensitive conversations with our patients, but our profession is currently operating under intense resource pressures and there is a limit to what we can realistically do within the constraints of the standard 10 minute consultation – and offering longer appointments means offering fewer appointments at a time when patients are already waiting too long to see their GP.'

This comes after GPs criticised the Government’s childhood obesity strategy for 'lacking in substance', and recent figures found that severe obesity among children aged 10 to 11 years increased by more than a third in just over a decade.

Readers' comments (13)

  • Vinci Ho

    Would like to know the data on spending in bariatric surgery in type 2 diabetics .

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  • Patients will say we are paying our taxes to pay for these billions of pounds !!!
    They will not take responsibility. Government will never tell patients to take responsibility because of pressure from food industry . The only way people will take real notice and change behaviour is when they have to pay part of that prescription money . Abolish free prescriptions and prescription charge for everybody and let everybody pay fixed percentage of prescription cost ( not just 1-2 pounds ). People will automatically start taking responsibility and also use their medication wisely . How many of us have seen patients cupboards full of unused medicines ?????

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  • 4 million with diabetes
    £250 each/year
    And every pound spent saves ten in complications
    Big numbers, big deal!

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  • Knowledge is Porridge

    But a £1-£2 fee may be enough (carrier bag use down by huge amount)

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  • I'm with vinci on this.
    Need to look at spending more on bariatric surgery. It should be almost automatic first line treatment for someone with a new diagnosis of T2DM and a BMI 30 - perhaps after a very short term trial of non-invasive weight loss.

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  • Big deal. We have to provide best care. You set the standards, be prepared to pay for it. Until the patients start paying and taking responsibility, demand and cost will just rocket.

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  • If our counter productive Eatwell Plate dietary advice was scrapped and replaced by a lower carb diet without pro-inflammatory fats, diabetics blood sugar and metabolic control would improve for those who stuck to the diet. This would save at least some money on medications.

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  • But we have been asked to proactively find more pathology over the past decade or so.There are consequences for pulling the iceberg of pathology out of the water.

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  • Bob Hodges

    Katharine is entirely correct!!

    This is caused (as with the other phenotypic manifestations of metabolic syndrome like HT, CVD, PAD) by CARBOHYDRATES - a word that didn't appear ONCE in this article. The answer to 'too any meals containing carbohydrates and not enough exercize' is NOT £1bn worth of tablet, injection, needles and test strips. Neither is bariatric surgery.

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  • Rogue1

    Quite right Bob. The elephant in the room is it is linked to obesity, which patients contribute to themselves by overeating and not exercising.
    Perhaps if the Income Tax was the same as the BMI, might change people approach to looking after themselves?

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