796 million prescription items were dispensed in England last year, representing a 5.9% increase over 2006 and a 2.1% rise in net ingredient costs to more than £8.37 billion, although in real terms these costs were down 0.7%, the National Health Service Information Centre has reported.

The average net ingredient cost per prescription item last year fell 3.5% to £10.51, or a real-terms decline of 6.3% compared with 2006, it says. 82.6% of all prescription items were written generically last year, and 88.6% were dispensed free to patients, the Centre reports, adding that the total number of prescription items dispensed in England has increased 59.2% in the last 10 years.

On average, 15.6 prescription items were dispensed per head of population in England last year, compared to 14.8 in 2006 and 10.3 in 1997, while the number of items received by elderly patients has gone up from 22.3 in 1997 to 42.4 over the period, the report notes.

“Nearly one in five” have taken Rx drugs incorrectly
Meantime, a new survey suggests that almost one in five people in the UK, or more than eight million people, have taken their prescription medicines incorrectly at some time.

Patients have either misread the medicine’s label or misunderstood the instructions, and this has resulted in them receiving the wrong dose or taking their medication at the wrong time of day, according to the survey, which was carried out by Lloydspharmacy. More than 2.7 million people say they have confused dosage and frequency instructions for two medicines which they are taking concurrently and over two million say they have continued with a repeat prescription even though they had forgotten why it was prescribed. As a result, almost 1.8 million people say they have suffered an adverse reaction, the poll has found.

“We know that many patients choose not to complete their course of medication, but this study reveals a different type of problem - patients who, for whatever reason, take their medicines incorrectly,” commented Andy Murdock, pharmacy director for Lloydspharmacy.

“The biggest issues are among those who are taking more than one prescription medicine at a time, but the problem also seems to be more acute among older patients,” he added. For example, a Lloydspharmacy pharmacist found that, for one patient who, during a Medicines Use Review (MUR), set out a range of medicines and described the frequency and dosage for each, it transpired that, for several months, she had been taking a sleeping pill first thing in the morning.

Lloydspharmacy published the surveys’ findings as the company completed its 500,000th MUR, the free service introduced four years ago as part of the Pharmacy Contract which is designed to held people take their medicines correctly.

55% of MURs completed by Lloydspharmacy pharmacists have produced a recommendation from the pharmacist that the patient change their medicine-taking routine in some way, while a further 25% have resulted in a GP referral. In many cases, this has led to the patient switching medications or ending treatment altogether, the company notes.