Diabetes drugs consume £1 in every £9 spent on NHS prescribing

Diabetes treatments consume £1 in every £9 spent on prescribing in the NHS, official data show, as the total number of items prescribed almost doubled over the past decade.

Prescribing: surge in costs for diabetes (Photo: JH Lancy)
Prescribing: surge in costs for diabetes (Photo: JH Lancy)

The NHS spent almost £9bn in total on prescribing in 2016/17, data from NHS Digital reveal - £984m (11%) of which went on diabetes drugs.

The latest figures reveal show the growing impact diabetes continues to have on NHS resources, accounting for close to half of the total rise in NHS prescribing costs since 2006/7.

Prevalence of diabetes has risen sharply in recent years, with the number of patients aged over 17 on QOF registers surging from 2.3m in 2009/10 to just over 3m by 2015/16.

Diabetes prevalence

But the rise in prevalence has been outstripped by soaring numbers of items prescribed to treat diabetes. The figure for items prescribed in 2016/17 - 52m - is 80% higher than the 28.9m items prescribed in 2006/7.

NHS Digital said that 'for years where comparable figures are available, prescribing for diabetes in primary care has grown nearly twice as quickly as the rise in diabetes prevalence across the population'.

Between 2009/10 and 2015/16 there was a 22.6% rise in diabetes prevalence, compared with a 40% increase in prescriptions in primary care for diabetes.

The cost of prescribing for diabetes has risen £411.3m over the 10-year period to £983.7m in 2016/17.


However, the latest data suggest that despite the rise in numbers of prescription items issued remaining relatively steady, the rise in costs may have slowed.

Spending on diabetes drugs rose £27m in 2016/17, down from £88m in 2015/16, £65m in 2014/15 and £39m in 2013/14.

Spending on drugs categorised as 'other antidiabetic drugs' outstripped spending on human analogue insulin for the first time in 2016/17. NHS Digital said these were often newly available drugs.

Spending on drugs in this category has more than tripled from £103m in 2006/7 to £322.5m in 2016/17.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'A rise in prescriptions can indicate both better identification of diabetes at an earlier stage and more comprehensive treatment according to latest guidelines, but it is clear from these figures that more people are living with both type 1 and 2 diabetes long-term - and this poses major challenges for the NHS.

'It’s important that all our patients with diabetes are given the most appropriate treatments for them, regardless of the cost. We also need to really push the prevention agenda.'

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