Hospital drug costs up 18 times faster than primary care since 2010/11

Hospital spending on medicines has almost doubled since 2010/11 while primary care prescribing costs have remained flat, official data show.

The cost of medicines dispensed in primary care has increased by just 4.6% over the past five years to £9bn in 2015/16, the Prescribing Costs in Hospitals and the Community report shows.

Over the same period, spending on medicines in hospitals increased almost 18 times faster, rising 82% to £7.6bn.

The report, released on Tuesday by NHS Digital, shows total NHS expenditure on medicines stood at £16.8bn in 2015/16, a rise of 8% on the year before and almost a third (29%) higher than in 2010/11.

It compares expenditure between primary and secondary care in total and for medicines approved by NICE.

NHS prescribing

Spending per patient ranged from £348.78 in the top spending NHS England region, Cumbria & North East, to over £100 less in the Central Midlands, which spent £242.20 per patient.

Hospital spending now accounts for almost half (45%) of the overall NHS spend on prescriptions, compared to 32% in 2010/11.

The significant increase in hospital spending was largely driven by the introduction of ‘new and innovative medicines’ in addition to ‘greater use of specialist medicines’, the report said.

Findings from a GPonline survey earlier this year suggest that hospital prescribing costs would be rising even faster if they followed the terms of their NHS contracts in full. Hospitals are required to provide medication to patients who need it after inpatient or daycase care, but 84% of GPs say local hospitals sometimes expect them to prescribe this.

Around one in nine GPs said that hospitals they deal with comply less than half of the time with a requirement to ensure that patients they discharge who need medication after a procedure have enough to last seven days.

GPonline reported last year that in the 2014/15 financial year alone, hospital prescribing costs rose four times faster than primary care prescribing costs.

Photo: JH Lancy

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