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Antidepressants were the area with largest increase in prescription items in 2016

29 June 2017

  • NHS Digital must be quoted as the source of these figures

Antidepressants saw the greatest numeric rise of all British National Formulary (BNF)2 therapeutic areas for prescription items dispensed in the community in England in 2016, according to a report published today by NHS Digital.

The report Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2006-20163shows that for the fourth successive year, prescription items4 for antidepressants5 showed the greatest numeric rise. They increased by 3.7 million items (6.0 per cent), from 61.0 million to 64.7 million between 2015 and 2016.

The number of antidepressant items has more than doubled in the last decade. In 2016, there were 64.7 million antidepressant items dispensed - 33.7 million (108.5 per cent) more than in 2006, when there were 31.0 million.

This report presents a summary of prescription items dispensed in the community in England. It highlights numbers, costs and changes between 2015 and 2016 and presents the main trends between 2006 and 2016 and within therapeutic areas, based on BNF classifications.

The therapeutic area with the greatest number of prescription items dispensed in England in 2016 was for drugs primarily used to treat hypertension and heart failure6.

A total of 71.5 million items in this area were dispensed, an increase from 2015, when 70.8 million items in this area were dispensed, and a rise of 49.7 per cent (23.7 million) from 2006.

Cost7 or Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) is the basic cost of a drug. It does not take account of discounts, dispensing costs, fees or income from prescription charges, so the amount the NHS spent8 will be slightly different.

For the tenth year running, drugs used in diabetes9 cost the most - in 2016, the cost was £984.2 million, or £2.7 million per day. The cost for this therapeutic area increased by £47.6 million (5.1 per cent) from 2015 to 2016.

The number of items dispensed in the community in England in 2016 to treat diabetes was 51.5 million, which was an increase of 2.4 million (4.9 per cent) from 2015.

The therapeutic area with the greatest cost increase between 2015 and 2016 was anticoagulants and protamine10 (blood-thinning drugs), for which costs rose by £76.6 million (34.5 per cent) to £298.7 million.

The report also finds that:

  • In 2016, 1,104.1 million prescription items were dispensed, an increase of 1.9 per cent, (20.5 million) on prescription items dispensed in 2015. This is a 46.8 per cent (352.2 million) rise on the same figure a decade ago

  • The NIC of all prescription items dispensed in 2016 was £9,204.9 million. This is a decrease of 0.7 per cent (£61.8 million) on the cost in 2015 but a 12.3 per cent (£1,008.1 million) increase compared to 2006

  • In 2016, 89.4 per cent of all prescription items were dispensed free of charge11. In more detail, 61.0 per cent were dispensed free of charge to those patients aged 60 and over and 4.4 per cent dispensed free of charge to children aged under 16 or young people aged 16 -18 and in full-time education

Read the full report


Notes to editors

  1. NHS Digital is the national information and technology provider for the health and care system. Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend. During the 2015/16 financial year, NHS Digital published 294 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better. NHS Digital is the new trading name for the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). We provide 'Information and Technology for better health and care'. Find out more about our role and remit at

  2. The British National Formulary (BNF) is a joint publication of the British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which aims to provide prescribers, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals with information on the use of medicines. It includes information on how to select, prescribe, dispense, and administer medicines. Medicines are listed within the BNF by therapeutic groupings. The Prescription Cost Analysis system uses the therapeutic classifications defined in the BNF September 2014 (edition 68).

  3. The Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2006-2016 bulletin presents a summary of prescriptions written in the UK and dispensed in the community in England by community pharmacists, appliance contractors and dispensing doctors. The majority of prescriptions dispensed are written by GPs, but prescriptions written by dentists, nurses, pharmacists and prescriptions written in a hospital or a Community Health Trust are also included, provided they were dispensed by a community pharmacist.

  4. Prescription Item: Prescribers write prescriptions on a prescription form. Each single item written on the form is counted as a prescription item.

  5. BNF section 4.3 Antidepressant drugs

  6. BNF section 2.5 Hypertension and heart failure

  7. Cost or Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) is the basic cost of a drug. It does not take account of discounts, dispensing costs, fees or prescription charges income.

  8. The Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2006-2016 bulletin shows the headline cost (net ingredient cost) of medicines before the deduction of discount or charges paid and therefore does not represent the actual cost to the NHS. Net ingredient cost figures given here are not adjusted for inflation. Standard adjustments for inflation are not considered appropriate as drug prices are subject to controls under the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme and to other central controls.

  9. BNF section 6.1 Drugs used in diabetes

  10. BNF section 2.8 Anticoagulants and protamine

  11. Items dispensed free of charge: Prescriptions are subject to a prescription charge, but many people are eligible for free prescriptions, if they meet certain exemption criteria. Exempt groups include those aged 60 years and over, those aged under 16, or aged 16-18 in full-time education, those in receipt of certain benefits, and those with certain medical conditions. All items personally administered and all contraceptives are free.

  12. Figures over 1 million have been rounded to the nearest 100,000. Other figures (including percentages) have been rounded to one decimal place.

  13. For media enquiries please contact or telephone 0300 30 33 888.

Last edited: 9 October 2019 2:25 pm