The number of prescriptions dispensed to patients in the community has increased by almost 70 per cent during the last decade, data published by the NHS Information Centre reveals.

Nearly 927 million prescriptions were dispensed in England last year, a 5 per cent increase on 2009 and a 68 per cent rise on 2000. The population has grown by about 6 per cent during that time.

The total cost was about £8.8bn, a rise of 4 per cent from 2009 and 58 per cent on 2000 levels. However, the net cost of individual ingredients has fallen from an average of £10.12 in 2000 to £9.53 last year.

The use of generic medicines has increased from just over half in 2000 to more than two thirds in 2010, however this still accounts for less than 30 per cent of the total cost.

Heart conditions accounted for the greatest number of prescriptions: 10 of the 20 most dispensed drugs were used to treat cardiovascular disease.

Drugs for the central nervous system and diabetes were the most expensive.

Health minister Paul Burstow said: “The big rise in prescribing revealed today largely reflects the impact of a growing and ageing population, as well as an increase in the prescribing of preventative medicines, such as low cost statins, for cardiovascular diseases.  

“These figures show that the demand for health care is increasing. The NHS must adapt and innovate to ensure it is able to meet these demands.

“We are increasing investment in the NHS by £12.5bn but the NHS needs to be smarter with its resources. That is why we are continuing to encourage the prescribing of preventative medicines, which help to prevent illness and improve patient outcomes.”