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NHS funding lags drugs spend

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Is NHS funding keeping pace with spending on drugs?

A think-tank report claims NHS funding levels lag the growth of spending on medicines and are compromising patients’ access to drugs.

The rising cost of medicines to the NHS: what’s the story? from the King’s Fund, shows that total NHS spending on medicines in England has grown from £13bn in 2010/11 to £17.4bn in 2016/17. This is an average growth of around 5% a year. The NHS budget grew by an average of only 1% a year in the same period.

The assessment includes generic drugs and branded medicines. King’s Fund analysts say that in recent years spending on branded medicines has been constrained by the pharmaceutical price regulation scheme.

Most growth has been in hospitals, which now account for nearly half of the total NHS spend on medicines, with costs up 12% a year since 2010/11.

In primary care, increases in the use of drugs such as statins and anti-depressants have resulted in rapid growth in prescriptions issued, with more than 1bn items prescribed in 2016. Spending growth has been lower than in hospitals because of policy initiatives such as encouraging the use of cheaper generic drugs that have led to a reduction of nearly 25% in the average costs per prescription item.

Further information

King’s Fund: Rising spend on NHS medicines could jeopardise patients’ access to drugs, warns the King’s Fund

King’s Fund: The rising cost of medicines to the NHS: what’s the story?