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Cost of medicines prescribed in primary care falls by almost £250m since last year, figures reveal

By Costanza Pearce

14 Nov 2019

The cost of medicines in England prescribed in primary care has fallen by almost £250m since last year, official figures have revealed.

Data published by NHS Digital today (14 November) showed that in 2018/19, £8.6bn was spent on medicines at list price in the community – a decrease of £247m (2.8%) compared to spending in 2017/18.

However, the overall cost to the NHS of medicines at list price has risen by more than £750m (4.1%) over the last year, from £18.2bn in 2017/18 to £18.9bn in 2018/19, the figures revealed.

This includes medicines prescribed in primary care, hospitals and dentists and dispensed both in the community and hospital pharmacies.

The costs do not take into account value added tax (VAT) or any discounts and are not necessarily the price the NHS paid, NHS Digital stressed.

In September, NHS England announced that the NHS had saved almost £300m over the past year by switching to cheaper medicines.


Hospital drugs cost rises exponentially


The data shows a shift in how much different sectors spent on drugs in the last year.

In 2018/19, medicines prescribed in primary care and dispensed in the community accounted for 45.5% of the total cost of medicines to the NHS, compared with 56% in 2014/15.

Meanwhile, medicines issued in hospitals accounted for 54% of the total costs – a rise of 11% compared with 43% in 2014/15.

While cost at list price has fallen in primary care, medicines costs have risen exponentially in hospitals over the last four years, according to the data.

Hospital-issued medicine prices rose by £3.5bn (52%) from £6.7bn in 2014/15 to £10.2bn in 2018/19 – with an increase of 11% in the last year alone.

The data ‘revises previously published figures for primary care prescribing’ as for the first time this year it is sourced from the NHS Business Service Authority’s (NHSBSA) new data warehouse and includes prescribing by dentists, NHS Digital said.

Last year, NHS Digital figures revealed that the cost at list price of medicines to the NHS had more than doubled in less than a decade.

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