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Creating a new NHS England: NHS England and NHS Digital merged on 1 February 2023. More about the merger.

Practice level prescribing data: more information

Describes which practices and professionals are included in the data and how prescription data is collected.

Included practices

All registered practices, including GP practices, in England are included in the data, including a number of 'dummy' practices. These are created by CCGs or NHS England (previously PCTs or Area Teams) to identify prescribing in environments or circumstances outside of a general practice, such as specialist clinics, hospices, prisons, out of hours services and training units.

Prescriptions issued from a branch surgery are included in the totals for the main practice site.

Data is provided at the general practice level, so the prescribing patterns of individual prescribers is not available.

The number of practices can vary from month to month because:

  • practices may close and others may open
  • practices may merge or divide into smaller practices, appearing to alter the number of practices in an area

Practices are identified only by their unique national code, so an additional data file - linked to the first by the practice code - provides further detail in relation to the practice. This:

  • allows the data to be linked to other datasets that use the same national practice codes
  • avoids potential confusion over practices that have similar names
  • reduces the size of the prescription data file
  • avoids duplication of practice name and address information throughout the file

Presentations are identified only by their British National Formulary (BNF) code, so an additional data file - linked to the first by the BNF code - provides the chemical name for that presentation.

What the data set can't tell you

You can't:

  • download data for only one practice or subset of practices - the data is contained in a single large data file
  • compare one practice with another without further information about prescribing, list sizes, age and gender of patients on the list, knowledge about the medicines and why they are prescribed
  • identify individual patients, even those receiving medication for rare conditions, because no patient data is contained in the data
  • find out how many people with a particular condition have been given prescriptions - prescriptions given to patients do not say why the drug has been prescribed
  • find out which pharmacies dispensed these prescriptions
  • find out about private prescriptions - these are not included in the data
  • find out the proportion of prescriptions that were paid for by patients or exempt from payment

With this data set alone it is not possible to work out the prescribing rate - the percentage of patients receiving prescriptions. You would need additional data on the number of patients registered with a practice which can be found on the NHS Business Services Authority website.

Included prescriptions

The data covers NHS prescriptions written in England which have been dispensed in the community in the UK. This data was obtained from NHS Prescription Services, part of the NHS Business Services Authority (BSA) prescribing and dispensing information systems. 

The data includes prescriptions written by GPs and other non-medical prescribers (such as nurses, pharmacists, optometrists, chiropodists and potentially radiographers) who are attached to practices. The data does not cover private prescriptions.

Where prescribing cannot be linked to a practice the data is excluded. This amounts to approximately 0.2 per cent of dispensed items.

Only where a prescription has been dispensed is it included in the dataset. This is recorded when the dispensing contractor (usually a pharmacist) submits a claim for payment to the NHS Prescription Service. If an item has not been prescribed that month no record will exist.

The NHS Prescription Services information system (the source of the practice level prescribing data) uses the therapeutic classifications defined in the British National Formulary (BNF). NHS Prescription Services has created 'pseudo BNF chapters' for items not included in BNF chapters 1 to 15. The majority of such items are dressings and appliances, (numbered 18 to 23). Note that there is no chapter 16 or 17. 

NHS Prescription Services has produced a booklet on BNF classifications and the pseudo classifications used.

Data released

Each month 3 files data files are released (2 months following the dispensing date). Monthly data is available from August 2010 to date.

Similar prescribing data is available by quarter or by year, but at PCT, CCG and England level.

As well as practice level data, PCT and CCG data sets include prescribing that cannot be attributed to specific practices and CCGs respectively. PCA data also includes dentists and all hospital prescriptions dispensed in the community where these prescriptions were dispensed in England (including prescriptions written in the three other UK countries).

Practice prescribing data file

CSV file of practice level prescribing data at  presentation level this is the main data file at (warning - this is a large file with over 10 million records every month). Presentation level data is available from August 2010. This csv file contains the following items:

Practice prescribing data file
SHA1 SHA or AT code - 3 characters
PCT2 PCT or CCG code - 3 characters
PRACTICE ANNNNN Practice code - 6 characters
BNF CODE British National Formulary (BNF) code - 15 characters
BNF NAME BNF presentation name - 40 characters
ITEMS Prescription items dispensed - whole numbers
NIC Net ingredient cost - pounds and pence
ACT COST Actual cost - pounds and pence
QUANTITY Quantity - whole numbers

For data covering August 2010 to March 2013, the SHA field refers to Strategic Health Authority. Following changes to the NHS structure, from April 2013 onwards, the SHA field refers to Area Team.

For data covering August 2010 to March 2013, the PCT field refers to Primary Care Trust. Following changes to the NHS structure, from April 2013 onwards, the PCT field refers to Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Practice level prescribing - practice codes, names and addresses file

CSV file which can be used to translate the Practice Code in the main data file.

Practice codes, names, addresses file
Practice Code ANNNNN practice code - 6 characters
Practice Name Name of surgery
Address 2 1 ANY ROAD
Address 3 ANYTOWN
Address 4 ANYSHIRE
Postcode XX2 7XX

Practice level prescribing chemical names and bnf code file

CSV file can be used to translate the presentation level 15 character BNF code of the main data file in to chemical level by using the first 9 characters. For dressings and appliances, where the concept of a "chemical" is not appropriate, only the 4 digit code is used.  

summary="Chemical names and bnf code file
CHEM SUB Chemical BNF code - 9 characters
NAME Chemical Name - 60 characters

Last edited: 15 January 2020 9:40 am