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Increase in prescriptions for diabetes exceeds rise in overall prescribing

1 August 2017: Prescription items2 for the treatment of diabetes3 in primary care have increased by 80.1 per cent over the last decade, compared with a 46.0 per cent rise across all primary care prescribing, an NHS Digital report published today shows.

*NHS Digital1 must be quoted as the source of these figures

And the report - Prescribing for Diabetes: England 2006/07 to 2016/17 - shows that in the last year the number of items prescribed for diabetes grew more than twice as fast (4.7 per cent) as the overall prescriptions across primary care (2.0 per cent).

52.0 million items were prescribed for diabetes in 2016/17, up from 49.7 million in 2015/16, and 28.9 million in 2006/07.

For the years where comparable figures are available, prescribing for diabetes in primary care has grown nearly twice as quickly as the rise in diabetes prevalence across the population. The latest prevalence figures (2015/16) available, from the Quality Outcomes Framework4, show that there was a 22.6 per cent increase in diabetes prevalence in England between 2009/10 and 2015/16. Prescriptions in primary care for diabetes increased by 40.0 per cent over the same period and prescriptions for the most commonly prescribed category of diabetes drugs, Biguanides (metformin)5, rose by by 51.5 per cent over this period.

Looking across the whole of the last decade, prescribing of metformin for diabetes has more than doubled, from 9.4 million items in 2006/07 to 20.8 million items in 2016/17.

Cost6 or Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) is the basic cost of a drug. It does not take account of discounts, dispensing costs, fees or income from prescription charges, so the amount the NHS spent will be slightly different.

In 2016/17 prescription items for diabetes accounted for around £1 in every £9 of the cost of prescription items across primary care. In 2006/07 it was less than £1 in every £14.

The cost6 of diabetes drugs increased over the last year, compared to the cost of prescriptions across primary care falling overall. Drugs Used in Diabetes accounts for the highest cost of all British National Formulary7 (BNF) therapeutic areas by BNF section. This has been the case since 2007/08.

Between 2015/16 and 2016/17, there was a marginal reduction in the overall cost6 of prescription items across primary care, with the figure falling below £9bn. But, over this period, there was a £27.0m increase for diabetes which totalled £983.7m in 2016/17.

Prescribing for Diabetes also shows drugs classified as "other antidiabetic drugs"8 - often new products to the market - are the most expensive category of drugs used in diabetes, for the first time overtaking the cost of human analogue insulin.9 They account for a low proportion of all items prescribed for diabetes, but that figure is rising.10 In 2016/17 they cost £322.5 million, compared with £103.0 million in 2006/07.

Read the full report:


Notes to editors

1. NHS Digital is the national information and technology provider for the health and care system. Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend. During the 2015/16 financial year, NHS Digital published 294 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better. NHS Digital is the new trading name for the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). We provide 'Information and Technology for better health and care'. Find out more about our role and remit at

2. The British National Formulary (BNF) is a joint publication of the British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which aims to provide prescribers, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals with information on the use of medicines. It includes information on how to select, prescribe, dispense, and administer medicines. Medicines are listed within the BNF by therapeutic groupings. The Prescription Cost Analysis system uses the therapeutic classifications defined in the BNF September 2014 (edition 68).

3. The Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2006-2016 bulletin presents a summary of prescriptions written in the UK and dispensed in the community 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 a 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. BNF section 4.3 Antidepressant drugs

6. BNF section 2.5 Hypertension and heart failure

7. Cost or Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) is the basic cost of a drug. It does not take account of discounts, dispensing costs, fees or prescription charges income.

8. The Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2006-2016 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.

9. BNF section 6.1 Drugs used in diabetes

10. BNF section 2.8 Anticoagulants and protamine

11. 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.

12. Figures over 1 million have been rounded to the nearest 100,000. Other figures (including percentages) have been rounded to one decimal place.

13. For media enquiries please contact or telephone 0300 30 33 888.

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