Media coverage of the figures recently published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre on the numbers of prescriptions issued in England focused on one big number; one billion, the number of prescriptions issued last year. But this misses an important point. The figures also show how medicines have delivered cost savings to the NHS over the past decade.
The key point to highlight is that, although the number of prescriptions rose by 4.6% last year, the net ingredient cost for medicines fell by 3.4%, in line with 2009 levels. In addition, these figures show that average net ingredient costs per prescription item have fallen significantly from 2002 to 2012.
Medicines which have seen the largest falls in net ingredient costs since 2002 are taken by many people, across the country to help them to manage their cholesterol, to control blood pressure and to treat ulcers. More importantly, these are medicines which help save lives and improve the quality of life of countless numbers of patients.
Since 2009, the NHS has saved at least £3 billion, as medicines lose their patents and can be prescribed generically. Over the next three years we expect the NHS to make savings to the tune of £3.4 billion as the patents on many more medicines expire. This means that more of the NHS budget can be deployed to ensure that patients can continue to access the most modern and innovative treatments.
It is important to note that the UK already has among the lowest prices for medicines in Europe – at only 0.9% of GDP. Analysis published by the Office for Health Economics last year also shows that expenditure on branded medicines as a percentage of total NHS expenditure will continue to fall from 7.8% per year in 2007 to an estimated 7.2% per year by 2015, through increased use of generic medicines. The latest medicines bill forecast to 2015 indicates that the cost of branded medicines is flattening, with a rate of annual growth of between 0.5% and 1.8%.
As these figures and those published this week show, it is clear that the medicines bill is under control. The NHS needs to save money where it can, but it is worth remembering that medicines have not been the significant driver of spending growth in NHS expenditure in recent years. In fact the use of innovative new medicines can save the NHS money by being part of a redesign of the patient pathway that moves care out of hospitals and closer to the patient.
Stephen Whitehead ABPI Chief Executive