A National Audit Office study has found that the NHS could save £200m a year by GPs prescribing drugs fewer branded drugs and instead using generics.

It concludes that better information is a vital factor to help GPs analyse their knowledge and keep their knowledge up to date.

The report says that £200m a year could be saved if all primary care trusts prescribed as efficiently as the top 25% PCTs. In addition drugs wastage is estimated to cost the NHS "at least £100m a year, and perhaps considerably more".

The NHS spent more than £8bn on medicines in 2006, dispensing 752m prescriptions. Over the past decade the number of items dispensed has increased by 55% and expenditure increased 60%.

Parliament’s spending watchdog highlights the importance of data that will be produced by the electronic prescriptions service (EPS) being implemented as part of the £12bn NHS IT programme for more closely analysing prescribing patterns.

The NAO recommends that the NHS "evaluate the effectiveness of medicines use reviews and repeat dispensing schemes after the electronic prescription service comes fully online."

It also says that the NHS Business Services Authority and Information centre be commissioned to jointly develop prescribing benchmark tools for PCTs "that improve the currently available electronic prescribing analysis and cost data by incorporating local prevalence information."

"GPs have to update their prescribing knowledge continuously, but we found that it was difficult for GPs to assimilate all the information they received on prescribing," said the NAO.

Guidance from NHS prescribing advisors, the report observes, competes with pharmaceutical industry influence with the industry spending "more than £850m annually marketing its products to GPs".



NAO: Prescribing costs in primary care