The number of prescription items dispensed in the community to patients in England rose 67.9% during 2000-2009, and the total net ingredient cost increased by just over 58%, say new government figures.

Also during the period, the average number of prescription items dispensed per head of population increased from 11.2 to 17.8, while the average new ingredient cost per head rose from £113 to £169, according to the data, which is published by the NHS Information Centre.

However, the figures also show that the average net ingredient cost of an individual prescription item fell during the 10-year period.

Nearly 927 million prescription items were dispensed in England last year, which is up 4.6% on 2009 and 67.9% over 2000, while the total net ingredient cost for 2010 was £8.83 billion, 3.5% more than in 2009 and 58.2% higher than in 2000, says the report.

It also notes that an average 17.8 prescription items were dispensed last year per head of population, up from 17.1 in 2009 and 11.2 in 2000. The average net ingredient cost per head in 2010 was £169, compared to £165 in 2009 and £113 in 2000, while the average net ingredient cost per prescription item was £9.53 in 2010, £9.64 in 2009 and £10.12 in 2000.

67.4% of all prescription items last year were dispensed as generic medicines, representing 29.6% of the total cost. These percentages had been 66.1% and 28.3% respectively in 2009 and 51.8% and 21.6% in 2000.

The Centre notes that the report shows the headline cost (net ingredient cost) of medicines before the deduction of discount or charges paid and does not, therefore, represent the actual cost to the NHS. However, it says, "many overall messages are very similar."

It also points out that there have been changes in the cost of some commonly-prescribed drugs under the Category M scheme, where the net ingredient cost for selected generic formulations is controlled with the aim of reducing costs overall. Products subject to the new arrangements are classified as Category M in Part VIII of the Drug Tariff, and the prices of most of them have fallen, although some have increased.

Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said the data show that, on average, people in England are receiving more prescription items than 10 years ago, although the average cost of each prescription item has gone down during the period.

“Prescribing has a significant impact on people's lives, and from a financial point of view is of substantial cost to the NHS," he added.

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow added that the big rise in prescribing revealed in the report largely reflects the impact of a growing and ageing population, as well as an increase in the prescribing of preventative medicines, such as low-cost statins, for cardiovascular diseases.

"These figures show that the demand for health care is increasing. The NHS must adapt and innovate to ensure it is able to meet these demands. We are increasing investment in the NHS by £12.5 billion but the NHS needs to be smarter with its resources. That is why we are continuing to encourage the prescribing of preventative medicines, which help to prevent illness and improve patient outcomes," he said.

Mr Burstow also pointed to the continued reduction in the cost of ingredients used in prescription drugs, and said that this "reflects the robust measures in place to control prescription costs, such as promoting the widespread use of generic medicines."

"This helps ensure better value for money for the NHS and the taxpayer," said the Minister.