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Community prescribing increases by almost 60 per cent, but costs rise by only 15 per cent since 2003

July 09, 2014: The number of prescription items dispensed in the community has increased by 58.5 per cent since 2003 new Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) analysis shows today. Over 1.03 billion items were prescribed in 2013 compared to 649.7 million in 2003.

*HSCIC must be quoted as the source of these figures

The number of prescription items4 topped one billion for the first time in 2012, and the latest data for 2013 shows that this has increased by a further three per cent (29.6 million).

The overall Net Ingredient Cost3 (NIC) of prescriptions has only increased by 14.8 per cent since 2003. In 2013 the overall NIC of prescriptions stood at £8.63 billion, compared to £7.51 billion in 2003 and £8.52 billion in 2012.

The Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2003-2013 report looks at prescriptions dispensed in England by community pharmacists, appliance contractors, dispensing doctors and prescriptions for items administered in GP practices2.

Ninety per cent5 of all prescription items are dispensed free of charge4. For the first time, this report looks at the overall net ingredient cost of free of charge prescriptions, which shows:

  • 59.5 per cent of the free of charge items were dispensed to patients claiming an age exemption of '60 years and over' and accounted for 50.5 per cent of overall NIC.
  • 4.7 per cent of the free of charge items were dispensed to patients claiming an age exemption of 'under 16, or aged 16-18 in full-time education' and accounted for 6.8 per cent of the overall net ingredient cost.

The report also shows that in 2013:

  • Atorvastatin, a drug which helps to reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes, had the greatest decrease in cost of any drug over the last year, a £124.2 million decrease from £166.6 million in 2012 to £42.4 million in 2013. It also had the greatest increase in the number of items dispensed, from 12.8 million in 2012 to 18.3 million in 2013, an increase of 5.5 million items.
  • The cost of antidepressant drugs stood at £282.1 million, a 33.6 per cent (£71.0 million) increase from 2012 (£211.1 million). The number of items dispensed reached 53.3 million, a 6.3 per cent increase from 50.2 million in 2012.
  • The cost for drugs used in the treatment of Diabetes stood at £793.8 million, a 3.4 per cent (£25.9 million) increase from 2012 (£767.9 million). The number of prescription items dispensed reached 44.6 million, a 5.7 per cent (2.4 million) increase from 42.2 million in 2012.

HSCIC chair Kingsley Manning said: "We are prescribing almost 60 per cent more items in the community than in 2003, but, over the same period, the cost of these has increased by only 15 per cent.

The finding that over 60s accounted for almost 60 per cent of the free of charge prescriptions, which in turn make up ninety per cent of all prescriptions, will help the NHS to understand the provision required for the aging population in England."

The report can be accessed at:


Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) was established on April 1 2013 as an Executive Non Departmental Public Body (ENDPB). It is England's trusted data source, delivering high quality information and IT systems to drive better patient services, care and outcomes. Its work includes publishing more than 220 statistical publications annually; providing a range of specialist data services; managing informatics projects and programmes and developing and assuring national systems against appropriate contractual, clinical safety and information standards.
  2. This bulletin covers all prescriptions that were dispensed in England by community pharmacists, appliance contractors and dispensing doctors. The majority of prescriptions dispensed are written by GPs but prescriptions written by dentists, nurses, pharmacists and prescriptions written in hospital or a Community Health Trust are also included, provided they were dispensed by a community pharmacist.
  3. The bulletin shows the headline cost (net ingredient cost) of medicines before the deduction of discount or charges paid and therefore does not represent the actual cost to the NHS. Net ingredient cost figures given here are not adjusted for inflation. Standard adjustments for inflation are not considered appropriate as drug prices are subject to controls under the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme and to other central controls.
  4. Prescription Item:Prescribers write prescriptions on a prescription form. Each single item written on the form is counted as a prescription item.
  5. Items dispensed free of charge:
    Prescriptions are subject to a prescription charge but many people are eligible for free prescriptions, if they meet certain exemption criteria. Exempt groups include those aged 60 years and over, those aged under 16, or aged 16-18 in full-time education, those in receipt of certain benefits, and those with certain medical conditions. All items personally administered and all contraceptives are free.
  6. Up to 2007, information on prescribing by exemption group was compiled using a 1 in 20 sample of all exempt items. In December 2007, NHS Prescription Services changed the process for pricing prescriptions and for capturing prescription charge exemption status. As a result, NHS Prescription Services were unable to reliably estimate the data for each exemption category from this date. Therefore there is only limited data on prescribing by exemption category between 2007 and 2011.

    From January 2012, a new methodology to report exemption data was set up. This records the reason for any exemption for each prescription, rather than from a sample. The information available for 2012 was the number of items dispensed in each exemption category at a national level. This information is also available for 2013, including information on the cost of the medicines dispensed.
  7. Figures over 1 billion have been rounded to the nearest 10 million, those over 1 million have been rounded to the nearest 100,000. Other figures (including percentages) have been rounded to one decimal place.
  8. For media enquiries please contact the press office on 0300 303 3888 or
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