The number of prescriptions dispensed in England in 2014 rose 3.3%, or 34.5 million items, from the prior year, driven by increases in the use of bloodthinners, antidepressants, diabetes drugs and Viagra.

According to the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, the overall Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) of prescriptions stood at £8.85 billion, marking an increase of 2.6% (£227.5 million) from 2013. 

But the average NIC per item the item slipped to £8.32 from £8.37 in 2013, having continued its decline over the last decade, when the figure was nearly 30% higher. 

Taking a closer look, the figures showed a strong rise - £44.8 million, or 47.8% - in the cost of medicines used to prevent blood clots, which was largely driven by the arrival of three new oral anticoagulants on the market. 

In the same vein, atorvastatin, which helps to reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes, also had the greatest increase in the number of items dispensed with 4.0 million more versus 2013.

Elsewhere, cash spent on diabetes drugs was up 7% at £849.1 million, but the HSCIC also noted that the number of prescription items dispensed also grew, by 2.1 million (4.8%), from 2013.

Also notable, there were 57.1 million antidepressant medicines dispensed in 2014, marking a 7.2% increase from 2013, and the number is now 97.1% higher than it was back in 2004. And prescriptions for erectile dysfunction sildenafil - the active ingredient in the Viagra brand - leapt 21.4% to 1.7 million, as cheaper generics entered the market.

The data also show that 89.9% (957.1 million) of prescriptions were issued free-of-charge, of which three in five were picked up by patients over the age of 60, accounting for 51.2% (£4.53 billion) of the overall NIC.