This site is intended for health professionals only

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.