The NHS can look forward to making nearly half a billion in efficiency savings on medicines this year, according to new data.

New forecasts from The Quarter – a regular report on how the NHS is meeting its QIPP targets – predicts that the NHS should make £447 million in savings on its prescribing budget by April next year. This will make medicines the second largest chunk of savings coming from QIPP, second only to efficiencies coming from acute services.

Data from the report, which was released this week by the Department of Health, show that the NHS has already saved over £1.2 billion in the first quarter of the financial year, and is on target to meet its savings target of £5 billion for the year.

But it is not as much as was made in the last financial year, where QIPP managed to save £5.8 billion, with the medicines bill representing £700 million of this total. The biggest proportion of this - £2.8 billion - came from savings made in hospital care, but drug costs amounted for the second biggest set of savings.

A large number of medicines went off patent in 2011/12, which would have helped prescribers cut down on branded drugs, including AstraZeneca’s antipsychotic Seroquel (quetiapine) and Pfizer and Eisai’s Alzheimer’s drug Aricept (donepezil). The patent loss of Pfizer’s statin Lipitor (atorvastatin) in May should also do much to help make savings this year, as it has been the most costly drug for the NHS for nearly ten years.

The government has set an ambitious target of making £20 billion worth of savings by 2015, meaning last year’s target will need to be met every year for the next three years if it is to be reached.

The savings are part of the government’s QIPP agenda, which aims to make major savings by improving quality, innovation, prevention and productivity in the health service.

Ending blacklists

But controversy still remains over how some of these targets are being met. Whilst QIPP aims to encourage an innovative approach to reducing drug costs, many NHS commissioners are still using ‘slash and burn’ tactics to make savings on the annual £13 billion drugs budget.

This includes the use of ‘red’ and ‘black’ lists of drugs, which pressurises doctors into not prescribing high-cost treatments, and is the antithesis of what QIPP aims to achieve. The report notes the government aims to stop this practice with the recent introduction of the NICE Scorecard, which will name and shame those NHS bodies who are still restricting NICE-approved medicines.

The report says: “The law is quite clear on this point. All of NICE’s technology appraisals carry a statutory funding obligation and patients have a legal right to access NICE recommended medicines and technologies – this is non-negotiable.”