The NHS spends more than £440 million a year on painkillers - with the biggest bill in the north, according to a new analysis.

Data for England showed health trusts spend an average of £8.80 per head of population on drugs to treat pain, with some GPs even giving patients Lemsip and Anadin on prescription.

Data analysis firm SSentif examined figures for 2010/11 from the NHS Information Centre and head of population data from the Office for National Statistics.

Researchers found that the overall NHS spend on painkillers in 2010/11 was £442 million.

In some northern towns and cities, the spend per head was as high as £15, dropping to just £3.26 per head in some parts of the south.

According to figures, the highest spend was in Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Rochdale and Blackpool, with painkiller prescription bills in those primary care trusts averaging £2.3m each.

These figures are more than double the prescription cost in Richmond and Twickenham, Camden and Westminster primary care trusts (PCTs), despite having lower populations.

The analysis also showed that PCTs are spending thousands prescribing over-the-counter painkillers and branded cold and flu treatments such as Lemsip, Beechams, Anadin and Panadol.

Between January and June, PCTs spent just over £3,000 on prescriptions for cold and flu remedies and more than £59,000 on prescribing over-the-counter painkillers.

The research also looked at any link between painkiller prescribing, deprivation and older age (over-65s).

It found a strong correlation between painkiller prescribing and age in the south but almost no link with deprivation.

This is despite London having three of the most deprived areas of the country (Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham), where spend per head was less than £5.50.

In the north, researchers found a slight correlation with deprivation and almost none with age.

Meanwhile, the biggest spender, Middlesbrough, was found to have a high deprivation percentage of 38%.

Judy Aldred, managing director of SSentif, said: “£442 million is a huge amount and the data shows spend on analgesics has increased steadily year-on-year, with figures from 08/09 and 09/10 showing spends of £384m and £410m respectively.

“At the moment, the responsibility for the prescribing budget lies with primary care trusts but this is about to change.

“PCTs are phasing out and GPs are being given greater responsibility, including the management of their own prescribing budgets.

“Although the figures involved were comparatively low, it was concerning to see products such as Lemsip and even Alka-Seltzer XS offered on prescription.

“When GPs begin shouldering the responsibility for prescribing costs it will be interesting to see if this continues.”