GPs in poorer areas prescribe fewer drugs and spend less on them than GPs in richer areas, research by Suffolk primary care trust has found.

Lead researcher and consultant in public health medicine Dr Padmanabhan Badrinath told HSJ: "The research tells us there is unmet need and problems in accessing primary care and possibly in articulating need. This clearly shows that the inverse care law is widespread."

The researchers looked at the prescribing rates for patients with diabetes, coronary heart disease, digestive, musculoskeletal and respiratory disorders between practices in Suffolk over three years. In each case, practices in poorer areas tended to have lower prescription rates, despite patient needs being higher.

The strongest relationship between deprivation and low prescribing rates was for diabetes drugs. The researchers suggested possible reasons for the differences were: patient need in poor areas was not being recognised; poorer patients had problems accessing primary care services; poorer patients were less likely to get a prescription and/or were less likely to get an expensive prescription.

But Dr Badrinath said limitations in the data meant it was not possible to prove that GPs systematically gave poorer patients cheaper or fewer prescriptions.