The proportion of generic drugs prescribed by GPs has fallen for the first time, as NHS statisticians admit the cost-cutting drive by managers has reached the end of the line.
Generic prescribing rates have been steadily rising year-on-year, as NHS managers piled pressure on GPs to prescribe cheaper alternatives, but figures released this week reveal the proportion of generics prescribed has fallen for the first time to 82.7% in 2010 compared with 82.8% in 2009.
The small decrease has been interpreted by the NHS Information Centre - the body that collects the annual data - as a sign the drive may have reached 'clinically appropriate levels'.
Top GPs have agreed with the centre's conclusions, saying that the generic prescribing drive has reached its limits.
The report says: 'For the first time the proportion [of generic medicines] has decreased in 2010, although by a small amount only. The rate of generic prescribing may not rise much further if it has reached a clinically appropriate level for the drugs currently available.'
Dr Andrew Mimnagh, a GP in Liverpool agreed with the report's findings.
He said: 'It's around its limit. I think people will follow the market. Drugs companies will competitively price branded drugs as cheaper than generics for a while to build brand loyalty so when they come off patent GPs will stick with them.'
Dr Bill Beeby, chair of clinical and prescribing subcommittee at GPC said: 'There's a limit to the number of generics you can prescribe. That figure has been around for quite a while now but many prescriptions written as generics are not dispensed as generics.'
GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said: 'When using generics there's only a certain amount you can prescribe when using modern medicine. I definitely think issues with supply have meant generics have been less available and branded drugs have had to be used.'
'The UK has a high percentage of generic use so there are times when you do get diminishing numbers because of certain issues.'
The figures also show the number of prescriptions dispensed in England has risen by almost 70% in the last decade - 927 million items were dispensed in 2010, a rise of 67.9% since 2000.
Even though the cost of prescriptions has gone up the cost of the net ingredients in drugs has fallen since 2000.