NHS prescriptions surge to 1 billion in a single year

NHS prescriptionsAn incredible milestone has been reached, with a record 1 billion NHS prescriptions dispensed within a single year for the first time ever in England, according to new statistics compiled by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

The figure was met during 2012 across England and represents a 62% surge from the previous decade, when 383.5 million items were dispensed. The billion prescriptions dispensed is the equivalent of 2.7 million items each a day, or over 1,900 a minute.

Other figures in a report released by the HSCIC show that on average the NHS dispensed 18.7 items per person in 2012, whilst in 2002 it was just 12.4 per person. Moreover, the net cost per item has dropped from £11.10 in 2002 to £8.50 in 2012.

It is believed that an increasingly large and aging population are behind the increase in prescriptions as well as more patents beginning to expire and inexpensive generic alternatives becoming available.

For example, the net cost of the cholesterol-boosting medication atorvastatin (marketed as Lipitor by U.S. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer) dramatically dropped during 2011 and 2012 from £310.9 million to £166.6 million.

Since then, Pfizer have also lost the UK patent for Viagra, meaning certain other pharmaceutical companies are able to produce an erectile dysfunction medication that contains Viagra’s active ingredient sildenafil citrate, at a significantly lower cost to the patient. Sildenafil Teva and Sildenafil Actavis are two such examples to emerge since the UK Viagra patent ended on June 21.

In what could be a testament to Britain’s burgeoning obesity crisis, for the sixth consecutive year diabetes prescriptions were the biggest cost by treatment area, costing £768 million in 2012 – representing a 2.2% (£16 million) increase from 2011.

Since 1996 the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has risen from 1.4 million to 2.9 million, of which an estimated 90% are believed to have type 2, which can be caused by either being overweight or obese. Health experts predict that by 2025 5 million people in the UK will have diabetes.

Commenting on the prescription increase, HSCIC chairman Kingsley Manning said: “For the first time, one billion prescription medicines have been dispensed to our communities in just one year. This figure reflects a continuing upward trend in prescription numbers, which is in contrast to a recent fall in total net cost. Total costs have fallen for the second year running and are now at 2009 levels. Our report shows that, while people on average now receive more prescription items, the cost of these per head has dropped in the last two years.”

However, the figures also demonstrate a ‘notable’ rise in the number of antibiotics prescribed – which is causing huge concern. The Government’s chief medical officer has previously spoken of fear that the body’s increasing resistance to antibiotics is one of the biggest threats to modern health.

Professor Dame Sally Davies said many drugs are unnecessarily dished out for mild infections or illnesses and this helping to create a resistance to them, warning that even routine operations such as hip replacements could become fatal if we lose the ability to fight off infection.

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