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Cost of medicines in UK more than doubles in less than a decade, figures reveal

The amount of money medicines cost the NHS has more than doubled in less than 10 years, official figures have revealed.

Data published by NHS Digital last week (15 November) showed that £20.2bn was spent on medicines at list price in 2017/18 – a 55% increase compared to spending in 2010/11.

The total cost includes medicines prescribed in primary care and hospital and those dispensed in the community and hospital pharmacy departments.

According to the figures, £20.2bn was spent last year on prescription medicines before any discounts were applied. This marks an increase of 55% from the £13bn spent in 2010/11 and an 11% increase compared to the £18bn spent in 2016/17.

Of the total cost, 44% (£8.9bn) was allocated to drugs prescribed in primary care, a 3% rise in the past seven years. The biggest increase in costs was reported in drugs used in hospital, with a 167% increase, from £4bn to £11bn over the same period.

Among the 20 most expensive medicines positively appraised by medicines watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), rivaroxaban, apixaban and insulin glargine were predominantly used in the community at a combined cost of around £449m.

NHS Digital argued that increasing costs are the result of new and innovative medicines and a greater use of specialist medicines.

Campaigning organisation Global Health Now called on the Government to take a stronger approach in regulating the pharmaceutical industry to better control the medicine bill and ensure patients are not refused essential treatments.

Global Justice Now pharmaceuticals campaigner Heidi Chow said: “It’s outrageous that the NHS is paying such high prices for existing drugs.

“At the same time, patients are being denied access to effective drugs, even though they exist, because their price tag is just too high for the NHS.

“We treasure the principle of public healthcare for all, free at the point of use, but this is undermined by our system of privatised medicines. We have to question what is going wrong in this system and recognise that medicines are not luxury goods like handbags, but an urgent necessity.”

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