In 2006 the NHS spent more than £8 billion on medicines in primary care and more than 750 million prescriptions were dispensed. Over the last decade the primary care drugs bill has increased by 60 per cent in real terms.
The NAO report, Prescribing costs in primary care, investigated how the DoH and NHS organisations can help make future growth in prescribing more affordable without affecting clinical outcomes. It also looked at the extent of medicines being wasted through, for example, GPs over prescribing or medicines being dispensed to patients but not being used.
The report found large variations between PCTs in the extent to which local GPs prescribed lower cost drugs for the same conditions, such as statins.
Analysis of the prescribing of four common types of medicines, representing 19 per cent of the drugs bill, showed that more than £200 million could be saved if all PCTs prescribed as efficiently as the top performing 25 per cent of PCTs. The report also found that if all PCTs prescribed as efficiently as the top ten per cent of PCTs, then more than £300 million could be saved.
Head of the NAO, Sir John Bourn said: 'There is significant scope for the NHS to improve the value for money of prescribing in primary care. If GPs more often followed official guidelines and prescribed generic and other cheaper drugs where suitable, then there would be more money to treat patients and pay for expensive or innovative treatments.
'We have found that some small changes in prescribing behaviour can lead to substantial savings for the NHS.'
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