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Prescribing costs fall by £30m despite increase in GP prescriptions

The total cost of prescriptions dispensed in practices has fallen by £30m between 2016 and 2017, despite annual figures showing an increase in the number of prescriptions.

NHS Digital published the data showing that last year the cost of prescriptions dispensed in the community fell, while the total number of items prescribed increased by 10m.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that the rise in prescribing was a result of people living longer.

The prescription cost analysis found that the overall cost had dropped from £9.20b in 2016 to £9.17b in 2017, meaning a saving of £30m.

However they also noted that the number of prescriptions had increased from 1.10b to 1.11b over the same time.

This does not come as a surprise, since prescribing has increased every year since 2007, with over 300m more items prescribed last year when compared with 10 years prior. 

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘GPs are highly-trained to prescribe, and will only do so when they feel it is appropriate for the patient sitting in front of them, based on the physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on their health.

‘It is testament to advances in medical research, public health and the tireless work of our NHS that people are now living longer, however, this also means that people are living long enough to develop conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

‘Where medication is appropriate, GPs use evidence-based prescribing guidelines to help them select the right drug and will carefully consider whether those drugs work safely in combination with other medications that a person may be taking – and also undertake regular reviews, in consultation with their patients.’

Cholesterol lowering drug atorvastatin, thyroid hormone replacement levothyroxine sodium and omeprazole, which is used to reduce the amount of stomach acid, were the top three items dispensed. Aspirin, paracetamol and co-codamol also featured in the top 20.

These data follow an announcement by NHS England, who said that under new proposals they are planning to ban GPs from prescribing over-the-counter medications for self-limiting conditions.

If implemented, this would impact 34 conditions including oral thrush, infant colic and haemorrhoids.


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