THE UK has seen a 55.2 per cent increase in the number of prescription items dispensed over the last ten years, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
Over a billion items (at a cost of £8.8 billion) were prescribed in 2014 compared to 378.5 million items in 2004, but the overall cost of prescriptions has risen by only 9.6 per cent. This reflects a decrease in the average net ingredient cost (NIC) per prescription item dispensed in the community (29.4 per cent decrease since 2004).
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 practices.
The report found that 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, while one in 20 prescriptions were for patients aged under 16 or 16-18 and in full-time education, accounting for 6.9 per cent (£612.1 million) of the total ingredient cost of all prescriptions.
In the year to 2014 there was a 47.8 per cent rise in the cost of medicines used to prevent blood clots (to £138.6 million) mainly driven by the greater use of three new oral anticoagulants which have recently been introduced alongside warfarin. The cost of medicines used to treat epilepsy also rose by 10.6 per cent and the cost of medicines used in the treatment of diabetes rose by 7.0 per cent to £849.1 million.
The report also found that the prescription of antidepressant medicines rose by 7.2 per cent in 2014 (57.1 million dispensed) having nearly double over the previous decade (from 29 million).
The RCGP has responded to the HSCIC findings by asserting that patients should rest assured that family doctors prescribe medication only when necessary.
RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker said: "Prescribing is a core skill for GPs and patients can be assured that their family doctor will prescribe medication only when necessary and where other alternatives have been explored. GPs also have to adhere to strict and robust monitoring systems.
"We have an ageing population and more patients are presenting with complex and multiple conditions including mental health issues and this is reflected in today’s figures.
"Compared to 2004 we have better survival for conditions such as cancer and heart disease, so many more people are taking multiple medications. We are also more systematic in identifying and treating problems such as hypertension and diabetes.
"Increasingly, we need more effective ways of looking after people with multiple conditions so that we achieve the right balance between making sure patients have the medications needed for the best possible quality of life, without running into problems from side-effects and interactions from multiple medications."