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Prescriptions ‘up by over 50% in past decade’

The number of items prescribed on the NHS has increased by 55% since 2004, official figures show.

Stats released by the Health and Social Care information Centre show 1.1 billion medications were dispensed in the community in 2014 – an increase of 379 million items compared with 2004.

The overall spend on prescriptions only went up by around 10% during this period, from £8.1bn to £8.9bn, owing to a 29% drop in the average cost of drugs.

The most recent data also show the number of items dispensed went up 3% between 2013 and 2014 – costing an extra £228m.

This includes a big, £47m increase in spending on epilepsy drugs that is put down to increased prescribing of pregabalin in 2014, up by £36m on the previous year, and gabapentin, up by £9m.

Other areas seeing big increases in spend included anticoagulation – where the HSCIC says greater use of the newer, non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulants such as rivaroxaban has driven a £45 million increase in spend in 2014 compared with the year before.

The biggest increase for an individual item was seen for atorvastatin, with four million more prescriptions in 2014 compared with 2013, likely reflecting the drop in its price since coming off patent in 2012.

This led to schemes encouraging GPs to switch patients on simvastatin or other statins onto atorvastatin as well as starting new patients on it.

Meanwhile antidepressant prescribing saw the biggest increase of any therapeutic area, with 7.2% more antidepressants dispensed in 2014 than 2013. This brought the number of antidepressant prescriptions up to 57 million – almost double the number prescribed in 2004 when the total was 29 million.


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