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NHS branded drugs spend up by 8%

Total NHS spend on branded drugs increased by 8% last year, largely driven by hospital prescribing, a Department of Health report has shown.

The hike brought the total bill of branded prescribing to £10.3bn, a £781m increase from 2013, but the cost of community sector prescribing (including by GPs) went up by just 1.9% in the same period.

The report said cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease drugs prescribed in secondary care acccounted for a large proportion of the rise in costs, although Lyrica (pregablin) – mainly prescribed in the community – saw the second-largest rise in year-on-year spend for a single drug.

The largest hike was for Eylea (aflibercept), used to treat wet AMD, spend on which grew by £102m, followed by Lyrica at £36m.

Spend on Lyrica may increase further following an interim judgement in Pfizer’s dispute with generics companies over infringement of its patent on neuropathic pain in March this year, which said GPs must switch over all neuropathic pain patients to the branded version.

An earlier report published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that the total number of prescription items – including both branded and generic medicines – increased by 3% in 2014 and by 55% since 2004.

The latest data showed that the world’s 20 biggest pharmaceutical companies accounted for almost 90% of the growth in NHS spend on branded drugs from 2013 to 2014.

Earlier this year, leading health economists said the NHS is spending too much on drugs because the Government is allowing the pharmaceuticals industry to hide behind regulatory processes and undermine NICE appraisal processes.