The number of prescriptions dispensed in the community per year overshot the one billion mark for the first time in 2012, equating to more than 1,900 a minute.

The figures, from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), show that 1000.5 million items were dispensed in England last year, representing a rise of 62.2% compared to a decade ago.

The number of prescriptions per head of the population has also risen, from 12.4 in 2002 to 18.7 in 2012.

Conversely, the total net cost of items to the NHS has fallen for the second year running, coming in at £8.5 billion, which is similar to the total net cost in 2009. 

And following a downward trend since 2004, the net cost per item fell from £11.10 in 2002 to £8.50 in 2012, largely because of a larger and ageing population and an increased use of generic medicines.

ABPI Chief Executive Stephen Whitehead said the figures demonstrate "the excellent value for money that medicines provide to the NHS". 

Indeed, in the next three years the NHS is expected to make significant savings of £3.4 billion as patents continue to expire opening the door to cheaper copycat versions of many medicines.

"Coupled with these savings, the UK also has amongst the lowest prices in Europe, but there has been a consistent failure in the healthcare system to invest in new medicines, which not only harms patient health but affects companies’ ability to invest in the hugely risky and expensive process of researching and developing medicines," Whitehead warned.