Doctors could save the NHS billions of pounds a year by ditching expensive branded drugs in favour of prescribing cheaper, equally effective alternatives, new research has found.

More than £200m was unnecessarily spent on two types of costly statin drugs alone in the last year, despite doctors usually being advised to prescribe better value options, the study said.

The wider issue of inefficient spending on prescriptions where far cheaper generic equivalents exist is estimated to cost the NHS £1bn a year, data company Mastodon C said.

Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS Commissioning Board, which backed the research, said it the report would help to “focus minds” on reducing costs.

He said: “Variation in prescribing habits costs the NHS millions of pounds a year.

“Transparent sharing of information will help clinicians understand whether they are over or under prescribing.

“This will focus minds in a way that will not only improve the quality of treatment for patients but also reduce cost and free up money for re-investment in other parts of the NHS.”

Mastodon C, based at The Open Data Institute, spent eight weeks working with publicly available data looking at the NHS prescribing patterns in GP practices, clinical commissioning groups, and primary care trusts.

The cost of an individual prescription item can vary from 81p for a generic drug, to over £20 for drugs still under licence to the pharmaceutical companies that develop them.

Francine Bennett, who carried out the data analysis, said: “We’ve suspected for some time that there were potential savings to be gained by looking at prescribing practices across the NHS but I wasn’t prepared for the extent of the potential savings we’ve seen in just this analysis.

“What’s important now is to work with the NHS and healthcare professionals to provide the data and analysis which can realise this potential.”