Hospital prescribing costs rising four times faster than primary care

Hospital prescribing costs rose over four times as fast as primary care costs over the last financial year, official data show, as GP leaders hailed 'great work' by the profession in medicines management.

Primary care prescription costs are rising at a much slower rate than hospital costs, according to the Prescribing Costs in Hospitals and the Community 2014/15 report released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) on Thursday.

Primary care spending on prescriptions rose 3% to £8.7bn last year, while hospital spending rose 13% to £6.7bn. Overall, NHS expenditure on medicines rose by 8% to £15.5bn.

Although absolute costs for primary drugs rose in 2014/15, the proportion of overall prescription costs spent in primary care fell from 59% to 56% of the overall spend.

This is due to a continuing trend of hospital medicine costs ‘rising at a greater rate’ than those in primary care, the report said. Hospital spending jumped from 40% to 43% of the overall prescribing spend during this time.

GP prescriptions

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMC, said the small primary care increase was testament to GPs' hard work in the face of pressures to drive up prescribing such as an ageing population, expensive new drugs and a rise in multiple long-term conditions.

‘In terms of general practice I think a 3% gross increase shows a lot of really great work done by GPs in medicines management to keep the costs down,’ he said.

‘I think it is always quite hard to give a direct comparison [between primary and hospital care], because quite a lot of the new expensive drugs will be used in hospitals. I also think that in the past there's been quite a lot of cost shifting from hospitals to general practice, but over the last year or two general practice has been much firmer about taking on drugs only once they're established, and not just accepting the cost shifting.’

Four years ago in 2010/11, primary care prescribing costs stood £100m lower at £8.6bn, while hospital prescribing spending has increased by £2.6bn from £4.1bn to £6.7bn.

Area team spending in primary care ranged from £124 per patient in London to £203 in Merseyside.

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