Chemist4U has analysed data from the NHS on England’s prescription levels in the last five years, the most prescribed drugs in England, the use of electronic prescriptions, thoughts, and the general public’s thoughts to reveal the state of prescriptions in England 2021. Take a look at the full findings here.
How have prescription levels changed in the last five years?
Using NHS England digital data over the last five years, there has been a considerable increase as the years have progressed. In 2015, around 1,073,128,330 prescriptions were given, with this number increasing by just over 20,692,230 for 2016. Prescriptions have risen year on year until reaching 1,114,519,621 in 2020. Based on figures so far for 2021, it’s likely that this year will increase again to 1,123,408,776 prescriptions given, but only time will tell.
However, looking at the most prescribed drugs yearly, the top prescriptions have remained much the same, with statin type drugs (Simvastatin, 2015 and Atorvastatin from 2016–2021) used to lower cholesterol coming out on top. From 2015 to 2021, these types of statins have been prescribed 275,526,511 times nationally.
Since 2016, the most prescribed items in the top three spots each year have remained the same (Atorvastatin, Levothyroxine Sodium and Omeprazole). Some medications have dropped in numbers, for example, Ramipril (to treat high blood pressure). Ramipril ranked from 2016 to 2020, but to date has not been one of the most prevalent medications in 2021 – likely due to the rise in Amlodipine prescriptions (also treats high blood pressure), with prescription numbers overtaking Ramipril in 2018.
Top five most prescribed items in England in 2020:
|Total number prescribed
|Treats heartburn and indigestion
|For underactive thyroid
|Treats high blood pressure
|Treats high blood pressure
The most prevalent prescription drugs in each region across England
Looking at prescriptions on a regional level, Atorvastatin is revealed as the most prescribed drug for all regions across England. While some medications feature prominently on the top five prescriptions across each region – such as Atorvastatin, Omeprazole and Lansoprazole – the rankings vary depending on the location.
After Statins, the second most prescribed medication in the North East and Yorkshire, North West, South East and South West is Omeprazole and Lansoprazole (both are types of medicine to reduce stomach acid and to treat indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux and gastroesophageal-reflux-disease (GORD).
In the East of England, Levothyroxine sodium used to treat an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) is in second place for their region. In London, the second most prescribed drug is Amlodipine, used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension). In the Midlands, the second-highest prescribed item is another medicine that treats hypotension, Ramipril.
The rising cost of prescription medications
With the Government currently consulting on plans to lift the qualifying age for free prescriptions from 60 to State Pension age (66), many more people around the country may soon be required to pay for their regular medications. However, over the past ten years, prescription costs, on the whole, have been increasing, with prescriptions now costing £9.35 as of 1st April 2021 compared to just £7.40 in 2011.
On average, prescription costs in England have seen an average price increase of around 2.37% year on year, with a 26.35% increase overall across the past ten years. As a result, looking forward to the next ten years and beyond, we expect this trend to continue. We can expect prescriptions to pass £10.00 by 2024, with this increasing further to over £11.00 by 2028 and almost £13.00 (£12.98) by 2035 in England if the average increase continues.
How do electronic prescriptions compare?
The electronic prescription service (EPS) was rolled out across the UK in 2019, with the view of making the prescribing and dispensing process more efficient and convenient for patients and staff. According to Pharmdata, 64.69 million items were dispensed using the EPS from the NHS Dispensing and Services Summary in England, since February 2020, with 81.07 million items distributed overall, meaning that just under 80% (79.80%) of prescriptions were delivered using this service.
However, as the Covid pandemic has changed how we connect with medical practitioners and receive medical care, this number has seen a significant increase since April 2020. Between March and April 2020, there was an 11.46% increase in the items dispensed via EPS, with 92.07% of prescriptions dispensed in this way. This trend has continued throughout the past 18 months, with just over 96% (96.19%) of all items now dispensed using EPS.
The UK’s views on prescriptions
As mentioned, prescription levels in England have been put under the spotlight by the NHS. However, Chemist4U were keen to gain insight from people across the UK, with a recent review suggesting that one-tenth of items dispensed in England by primary care settings are inappropriate or could be changed, with 15% of people in the country also taking five or more medicines per day.
According to our survey of 2,024 people across the UK, we uncovered their views on prescriptions, with more than half (53%) believing that we are prescribed too much medication as a nation. However, almost half (49%) thought the opposite and disagreed that they may be prescribed too much medication personally.
When it comes to paying for private prescriptions from Pharmacist Independent Prescribers, almost two in five (39%) of those surveyed said they’d be happy to pay for this service. 15% said they’d be happy to pay between £6-£10, including the current £9.35 NHS prescription cost, with a further 9% willing to pay £11-£15, and 5% willing to pay £16-£20. Only 0.1% said they’d be willing to pay over £21.00. For further information on the state of prescriptions in England, visit Chemist4U.
James O’Loan, pharmacist and CEO at Chemist4U, comments: ‘Prescription medications are a brilliant way of treating many medical conditions and make a real difference in keeping us a fit and healthy population. However, in many cases, we may now be used to expecting a prescription as soon as we see a doctor or prescribing professional, when it may not always be necessary.’
‘This is further proved by our data showing that the number of prescriptions dispensed has increased over the years, suggesting that either medical conditions have increased, or we’re not being as careful as possible when it comes to prescribing a drug. Alongside the cost of prescriptions and medicines as a whole, this is a cause for concern.’