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
- 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.