Prescribing costs fall for first time

The total cost of prescribing in England fell last year, even though the volume of prescribing went up, according to national statistics released last week.

The cost of prescribing in 2005 was £7.94 billion, which was 1.8 per cent less than was spent in 2004, representing a saving to the NHS of £143 million.

This made 2005 the first year in which the cost of drugs dispensed in England dropped. Over the past 10 years, there had been annual growth in the cost of prescribing ranging from 5.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent.

Although the total cost of prescribing fell, there was a rise of 5 per cent in the number of prescriptions dispensed, bringing the national total for 2005 to 720 million items.

The overall drop in prescribing costs can be attributed to reductions in the cost of generics following the introductions of new arrangements for category M drugs.

The largest saving was in spending on statins and other lipid-regulating drugs. These cost 18.7 per cent less in 2005 than 2004, representing a saving to the NHS of £144 million.

Spending on these drugs fell, even though there was a 20 per cent increase in the number of them prescribed.

Also, spending on antihypertensive therapy fell by 20 per cent last year, at a saving of £126 million. Spending on drugs used in rheumatic diseases and gout fell by over a third, reflecting reduced prescribing of COX-2 inhibitors.

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