Skip to main content

Medicines dispensed in Primary Care NHS Business Services Authority data product

NHS England has established a monthly collection of patient-level data about medicines dispensed and claimed for in community settings (predominantly community pharmacy) from the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA).

The purpose of this data collection

The Medicines dispensed in Primary Care data product, particularly when linked with other data held by NHS England, will:

  • improve patient safety by contributing to safer and more effective prescribing - for example, it can be linked to maternity and child health data to study the effect of medicines given during pregnancy
  • enable research and support clinical trials into the medicines used by patients
  • inform planning and assist in monitoring national priorities like anti-microbial resistance
  • improve services by helping to measure the uptake and effectiveness of new medicines
  • be used in research to support the response to the COVID-19 and future pandemics

How to access dispensed medicines data

This data is available to a wide range of customers, including researchers, academia and arm’s length bodies through NHS England’s Data Access Request Service (DARS).

A pseudonymised version of this data with demographics is now available for applications. It is also available in an identifiable format (with the NHS number visible) for those with a consented cohort.


About the data product

The Medicines dispensed in Primary Care data product is created from data submitted to the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA).

There are around 90 to 100 million rows of patient-level data in this collection per month. Each row represents each medicine or appliance on a prescription and includes personal data (for example NHS number) and special category data (data concerning health).

Working in collaboration with the NHSBSA, derivations and cleaning rules are added to create the data product and ensure it is suitable for a range of users.


Scope of the data product

Since July 2020 NHS England has established a collection of data from electronic and paper prescriptions submitted to the NHSBSA for reimbursement each month.

The data comprises prescriptions for medicines that are dispensed or supplied by community pharmacists, appliance contractors and dispensing doctors in England.

The data also includes prescriptions:

  • submitted by prescribing doctors, for medicines personally administered in England
  • prescriptions written in England and dispensed outside of England
  • prescriptions written in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey but dispensed in England

Data includes prescriptions issued by prescribers in:

  • general practice
  • community clinics
  • hospital clinics
  • dentists
  • community nursing services

Further processes are applied to create the derived data product, these include adding geographic information such as Lower Layer Super Output Area  to the dataset, removing personally identifiable information deemed as legally restricted – such as for medications related to fertility, sexually transmitted diseases and gender recognition – is removed by the NHSBSA prior to transmission to NHS England.

There is no additional collection burden placed on front line staff as the data is already collected and held by NHSBSA. The data is limited to prescriptions submitted for reimbursement. Prescriptions issued but not dispensed are not included.


Reference file and Analytical Technical Output Specification (ATOS)

The NHSBSA supplies NHS England with tables of reference data relating to the 'Medicines dispensed in primary care' data, details can be found in the Analytical Technical Output Specification (ATOS). This contains detailed information of all the fields available in the data product and how they are maintained and developed to support users analytical requirements. 


Published data

This patient level data is available to a wide range of customers, including researchers, academia and arm’s length bodies through NHS England’s Data Access Request Service (DARS).

A pseudonymised version of this data with demographics is now available for applications. It is also available in an identifiable format (with the NHS number visible) for those with a consented cohort.

The NHSBSA publish the official statistics that are based on this patient level data and should always be contacted for aggregate anonymised tables of data.

The NHSBSA also make the data available through their open data portal.

You can also view freedom of information (FOI) requests related to the data.


Data quality

The NHSBSA provide the following documents on their website that identify the quality control procedures in place and the limitations of them. The second link is a useful summary of the data and process flow of prescriptions data.

Quality Assurance of Administrative Data (QAAD) Assessment: Prescription Data

QAAD Assessment - Prescription Data: Appendix A


Protecting your data

You can read about how NHS England are the guardians of patient data, making sure it is protected and handled securely, on our Looking after information page.


Data Provision Notice

You can find further information about this data collection, including the relevant data provision notice and direction, on the NHSBSA Medicines Data Provision Notice page.


Transparency information

You can find further NHS Digital transparency information on the Transparency notice: how we use your personal data page and specifically on the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) Medicines Data: GDPR information page.

Last edited: 16 February 2024 3:57 pm