The number of prescriptions handed out to people suffering from allergies, diabetes and obesity increased in a year, although overall costs fell, new figures from the NHS Information Centre reveal.

There were a total of 842.5 million prescription items dispensed in 2008 - a 5.8 per cent rise on the figures for 2007 and a 64.1 per cent rise on statistics for 1998, when 513.2 million items were prescribed, according to the data from the NHS Information Centre.

Antihistamines, hyposensitisation and allergic emergency drug prescriptions all increased by 5.1 per cent during the year. In 2008, 10 million items were prescribed, increasing from 9.5 million in 2007.

A slight rise in obesity drug prescriptions saw 1.2 million items dispensed in 2007 increase by 3.7 per cent to 1.3 million in 2008.

Prescribing for diabetes drugs increased by 7.1 per cent, from 30.4 million items in 2007 to 32.6 million in 2008 at a cost of £593.3m.

The net ingredient cost of prescriptions was £8,325.5m in 2008, a decrease of 0.6 per cent from 2007.

NHS Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan said: “The reduction in cost may be due in part to the Category M scheme, where the net ingredient cost for some commonly prescribed drugs is controlled, with the aim of reducing costs overall.”