This site is intended for health professionals only

GPs cut NHS prescribing bill by billions but ‘can do more’, says think-tank

GPs have saved the NHS around £7bn in the last 40 years by increasing generic prescribing but can still do more, an influential health think-tank has suggested.

The King’s Fund’s Better value in the NHS report said that although generic prescribing rates have gone up by 20% since 1976, GPs should be able to further reduce costs by millions of pounds each year by reducing overdiagnosing and inappropriate prescribing.

As an example, the report pointed specifically to NICE estimates that £3.7m worth of savings may be found from cutting or reducing antibiotic prescriptions for a number of respiratory tract infections, such as coughs, colds and sore throats. It also pointed to a research study that found COPD treatment with inhaled corticosteroids – drugs to reduce inflammation – were likely overprescribed in general practice.

The King’s Fund further suggested GPs could save money by better idenification and management of mental health issues at an early stage, particularly among the large group of patients whose needs were below the level requiring specialist referral.

The think-tank said that taking these measures to reduce cost of clinical practice were particularly important in light of NHS England’s goal of saving a further £22bn off the NHS budget over the next five years.

The report said: ‘Although the Conservative Government has made a welcome commitment to increase funding by at least £8bn in real terms by 2020/21, this will not be sufficient to meet the needs of a growing and ageing population and to pay for advances in treatment. It is therefore all the more important that the NHS redoubles its efforts to deliver better value in the ways we describe.’

The recommendations come as the Government has opened up for a widening of the prescribing remit in general practice to also include physician associates. Meanwhile it will also spend £15m on employing pharmacists to work in GP practices.

Earlier this month, statistics released by the Health and Social Care information Centre showed that the number of items prescribed on the NHS has increased by 55% since 2004, with 1.1bn items dispensed into the community in 2014.