Atorvastatin was once again the most dispensed chemical substance by community pharmacies in England last year, while the number of items dispensed has continued to increase year on year since 2020/21.

Cardiovascular drugs accounted for 30% of all items prescribed by the NHS in the UK and dispensed in the community in England 2023/24, according to the latest statistics from the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), published today.

In 2023/24, 65 million items of atorvastatin were dispensed, up from 59 million items in 2022/23. It has been the most-dispensed drug in the community in England for nearly a decade, since 2016 according to NHSBSA and NHS Digital records.

This was followed by central nervous system drugs, which accounted for 19% of items, and endocrine system drugs – including diabetes drugs and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – which accounted for 11% of items.

In fact, British National Formulary (BNF) chapter 6 Endocrine System showed the greatest percentage increase in items from 2014/15 to 2023/24, with the sub category of sex hormones increasing by 152% in that time period.

In contrast, drugs included under the BNF chapter 13 Skin showed the greatest percentage decrease in items, reducing by 30% from 2014/15 to 2023/24.

In the last financial year, the number of items dispensed in the community in England increased by 3% from 2022/23 while costs increased by 5%.

In 2023/24, 1.21 billion drugs were dispensed by community pharmacies in England – 13% more than in 2014/15.

And the total cost of prescription items in 2023/24 was £10.9 billion – 22%, or £1.98 billion more than in 2014/15.

The chemical substance with the highest cost for items dispensed in the community in England, was the steroid beclometasone dipropionate, with a total cost of £316 million in 2023/24. It is primarily used for asthma, but also sometimes for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Apixaban was the substance with the second highest cost, at £239m, while rivaroxaban, edoxaban, omeprazole and atorvastatin were also in the top 10.

Last year, apixaban saw the highest costs at £430m.

Increased use of direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) has been cited as one reason for an increase in prescribing costs in primary care but the NHS has previously said that commercial deals struck on the drugs had led to millions of pounds of savings.