The overall cost to the NHS of prescriptions rose by £300m in 2009-10, despite a slight fall in the average cost of individual items, according to NHS Information Centre data.

The centre’s prescription cost analysis shows the total cost in England, including drugs and some medical supplies, rose by nearly 3.5 per cent to £8.8bn.

The average cost per unit has fallen slightly, continuing a historical decline which has seen it fall by 13.4 per cent in five years. But the total number of units prescribed has risen by 28.7 per cent since 2005.

The cost of drugs to treat diabetes alone went up by nearly £80m last year, reaching £713m. The number of units prescribed rose by 8.3 per cent while the cost for each unit also went up, by 3.7 per cent.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society director for England Howard Duff said the NHS was getting better value for money through centrally negotiated prices on some drugs and “entrepreneurial buying” by individual pharmacists. He said primary care trust pharmaceutical advisers had also helped encourage use of generic drugs.

The cost of drugs for dementia rose by £6m to £96m, reflecting a 15.7 per cent rise in the number of drugs prescribed.

The number of antidepressant drugs prescribed rose by more than 9 per cent, but the cost of these prescriptions fell by nearly £10m.

Drugs that cost the most to the NHS

Type of drugCost (£m)% price growth since 2009
Drugs used to treat diabetes713.212.35
Corticosteroids (respiratory)618.64.48
Lipid-regulating drugs564.7-0.20
Analgesics (painkillers)4868.24
Hypertension and heart failure394.3-5.53

Source: NHS information centre