The Accounts Commission for Scotland has identified 'great potential' to improve quality and reduce cost in GP prescribing.

In a report issued last week, the commission says the NHS has 'worked hard over the past 10 years' to improve prescribing, and there has been a 'substantial' increase in the use of generic drugs. Generic prescriptions have risen from 40 per cent in 1993 to 67 per cent this year.

But the report argues that there is still 'significant variation' in prescribing between practices that cannot be wholly explained by population differences.

A range of measures might produce annual savings of up to£53m, the report says, although it suggests that, in practice, savings of£26m could be achieved. The total cost of drugs prescribed by GPs was almost£575m in 1998-99.

Areas identified for improvement include increasing generic prescribing, which averages 70 per cent in some health boards, but only 15-20 per cent in others; choosing the cheapest drug where it is as effective and safe as a more expensive alternative; and phasing out drugs 'of limited therapeutic value' and overprescribed drugs, including modern antibiotics.

Supporting Prescribing in General