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NICE-approved medicines may be 'underused'

Drug companies have claimed NICE-approved drugs are being ‘underused’ in the NHS after an analysis showed utilisation rates were lower than expected for the half of disease groups they looked at.

But the study also showed that utilisation rates were higher than expected for the other half of disease areas looked at by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The analysis – part of a Government-backed scheme to encourage greater use of NICE-approved medicines in the NHS – looked at 13 disease groups where a comparison with expected levels of prescribing was possible.

They then compared this with actual prescribing rates and found use appeared higher than expected for six and lower than expected for another six areas.

Drugs such as the constipation treatment prucalopride and the gout treatment febuxostat showed a degree of underuse compared with predictions. In contrast, the smoking cessation treatment varenicline, the diabetes treatment insulin glargine and the bisphosphonate alendronate were found to be overused. Statins were also found to be overused compared with expected levels.

A spokesperson from the Health and Social Care Information Centre warned the data could not be used to definitively show drugs are being either under- or overused.

Chief executive Tim Straughan said: ‘Many of the medicines considered are only one of a number of treatment options available to clinicians.

‘This means some variation in use should be expected, and may be due to the prescribing preferences of clinicians in local areas. We are keen to encourage NHS organisations to look at this report and consider local medicines use in relation to the needs of the local population.’

Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the ABPI, said: ‘It is vital that we understand when NICE recommended medicines are not reaching patients. This year’s report shows that many medicines, including new medicines, still continue to be underused.’


The drugs whose use was higher than expected were:

  • Varenicline
  • Insulin glargine
  • Alendronate
  • Statins

The drugs whose use was lower than expected were:

  • Abciximab
  • Naltrexone
  • Prucalopride
  • Febuxostat

Readers' comments (1)

  • It is unsurprising that statin uptake is now high - but this is because statins can now be prescribed generically and therefore much more cheaply.
    Does this not suggest that the uptake of statins in the earlier, patented years was greatly reduced for reasons other than clinical appropriateness - which is now illegal?

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