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Prescription items increase by over 50 per cent since 2004

Prescription costs rise by less than 10 per cent

07 July 2015

*HSCIC must be quoted as the source of these figures

Over 1.06 billion items were prescribed in 2014, an increase of 3.3 per cent (34.5 m items) on 2013, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

The 2014 figure also represents an increase of 55.2 per cent on 2004 (378.5 million items).

The overall Net Ingredient Cost2 (NIC) of prescriptions in 2014 however stood at £8.85 billion, an increase of 2.6 per cent (£227.5 million) from 2013. Since 2004 this figure has increased by 9.6 per cent (£773.0 million).

The Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2004-2014 report looks at prescriptions dispensed in England by community pharmacists, appliance contractors, dispensing doctors and prescriptions for items administered in GP practices3.

The report shows that the average net ingredient cost per prescription item dispensed in the community decreased by 29.4 per cent since 2004. The average NIC per prescription item fell to £8.32 in 2014 from £8.37 in 2013 and £11.78 in 2004.

Of all prescription items dispensed 89.9 per cent (957.1 million), were dispensed free of charge5

Of which:

  • Three in five prescriptions were for patients aged 60 and over which, accounted for 51.2 per cent (£4.53 billion) of the total net ingredient cost for all prescriptions.
  • One in 20 prescriptions were for patients aged under 16 or 16 -18 and in full-time education. This age group accounted for 6.9 per cent (£612.1 million) of the total ingredient cost of all prescriptions.

Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community uses the therapeutic classifications as defined in the British National Formulary (BNF) and is structured to follow the same classifications. Within the report notable changes have been found over the last year in the following areas:

  • There was a rise in the cost of medicines used to prevent blood clots by £44.8 million (47.8 per cent) to £138.6 million. This was mainly driven by the greater use of three new oral anticoagulants6, which have recently been introduced alongside warfarin6.
  • The cost of medicines used to treat epilepsy also rose, by £46.6 million (10.6 per cent) to £486.5 million. The majority of this additional figure was spent on pregabalin7 (£36.1million) and much of the remainder on gabapentin (£9.0 million).
  • The cost of medicines used in the treatment of diabetes8 rose by £55.3 million (7.0 per cent) to £849.1 million.
    • The number of prescription items dispensed also rose by 2.1 million (4.8 per cent) since 2013.
  • Atorvastatin, a medicine which helps to reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes9, had the greatest increase in the number of items dispensed with 4.0 million more items since 2013.
  • There were 57.1 million antidepressant medicines dispensed in 2014, a 7.2 per cent increase from 53.3 million in 2013. Since 2004 the number of items dispensed has nearly doubled by 97.1 per cent from 29.0 million.

This 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. The Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2004-2014 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.

3. The Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2004-2014 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.

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. BNF chapter 2.8 anticoagulants and protamine, the increase in cost has largely been driven by rivaroxaban, apixiban and dabigatran etexilate. These medicines are recommended by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as options for the prevention of stroke and systemic embolism in patients with atrial fibrillation.

7. BNF chapter 4.8 Antiepileptics, the increased cost for pregabalin was the largest increase for any medicine in 2014.

8. BNF chapter 6.1 Drugs used in Diabetes- Includes insulins, oral antidiabetic drugs and monitoring devices

9. BNF chapter 2.12 Lipid regulating drugs

10. 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.

11. For media enquiries please contact the press office on 0300 303 3888 or

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