Auditor says prescribing bill could shrink further
24 January 2013
Audit Scotland has praised progress made in the management of GP prescribing but says there is scope for further improvement.
In a report published today, the watchdog says costs fell by 11 per cent in real terms between 2004 and 2011, at the same time as the volume of prescriptions increased by a third.
The report estimates that £26m could be saved without harming patient care and says this could be done by reducing waste, moving to more generic prescribing and cutting the use of less suitable medicines.
The BMA welcomed the report, although BMA Scottish GPs committee chair Alan McDevitt warned against simplistic solutions.
He said investing in good prescribing in general practice could deliver savings in other parts of the health service. But he added that while, for some patients, changing drugs to generic substitutes could be straightforward and deliver local savings, for other patients ‘it can be confusing and changes in their regimen can lead to problems in managing their condition’.
He said: ‘GPs have taken great steps to increase generic prescribing, but for some patients this is not the answer.’
Role for patients
He also said patients also had a role in good medicines management by not wasting drugs and requesting repeat prescriptions only when necessary. ‘If patients are not sure about any aspect of their drug treatments then they can talk to their pharmacist or GP,’ he added.
Auditor general for Scotland Caroline Gardner said GP prescribing accounted for 70 per cent of all NHS spending on drugs, almost £1bn per year.
She said: ‘Since we last looked at GP prescribing, the volume of drugs prescribed has continued to rise, but the NHS has significantly improved how it manages spending. This was during a period where there have been considerable pressures and constraints on the health service.’
This had been achieved through providing doctors with more support and guidance and using better information about what GPs are prescribing, she said.
Ms Gardner added: ‘Demand for prescriptions is likely to increase further and it’s important that the NHS continues to work with GPs to make sure patients get the drugs they need and spending is well managed.’
The report says it is too early to tell whether the abolition of prescription charges has had an impact on prescribing. Charges were phased out in April 2011.