Prescriptions for diabetes now account for 8.4% of the entire NHS net bill for primary care drugs in England, according to new data from The NHS Information Centre.

The percentage increase in the total cost of prescriptions for diabetes was four times that for prescription costs overall between 2005/6 and 2010/11, and takes the cost of diabetes prescribing to £725 million in 2010/11, it says.

Diabetes prevalence in England increased from 3.6% in 2005/6 to 4.3% in 2009/10, and the number of diabetes prescription items has increased 41% to total 38.3 million items in 2010/11, meaning that one in every 25 prescription items written now is for diabetes, the report shows.

The study findings also reveal that diabetes prescribing accounted for 6.6% of the entire NHS net prescription bill in 2005/6 and that this had risen to 8.4% by 2010/11. Moreover, by the latter period the total net ingredient cost of diabetes prescriptions was £725 million, representing a 41.1% (£211 million) increase over the earlier period, when their net ingredient coststood at £513 million. This compares to a 10.6% increase in the NHS drugs bill in England overall.

The total number of prescription items dispensed for the treatment of diabetes was 38.3 million in 2010/11, a 7.8% rise in the previous year's total of 2.8 million and a massive 41.2% rise on 2005/6's total of 27.1 million.

Moreover, the report says that the section of the British National Formulary (BNF) covering diabetes drugs carried the highest cost of any sector during the most recent period and also saw the biggest annual rise in cost of any section on 2009/10.

At 25.9 million items, around two in every three (67.7%) prescription items dispensed for the treatment of diabetes now are antidiabetic drugs, which help control the body's own production and use of insulin, at a net ingredient cost of £259.1 million. This represents an increase of 10.5% in the number of items and a 30.6% rise in net ingredient cost compared to 2009/10, when there were 23.4 million antidiabetic drug items prescribed at a net ingredient cost of £198.5 million. Since 2005/6, items and net ingredient cost of antidiabetic drugs have increased 60.6% and 76.5%, respectively.

Use of oral antidiabetic metformin rose 70.1% from 2005/6 to 2010/11, from 8.6 million items to 14.6 million items, while over the same period the total net ingredient cost for the drug rose 97.3% from £37.1 million to £73.1 million. This was the result of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)'s recommendation that metformin should be the first-choice drug for oral therapy.

Discussing the report, Tim Straughan, chief executive of The NHS Information Centre, said it "paints a picture of an ever-increasing drugs bill to cope with the demands of society triggered by diabetes." 

"This information will help people and health professionals see the impact that caring for diabetes has on NHS prescribing, and support the NHS in planning for how to best address the condition moving forward," he added.