How much does the NHS spend on medicines?
NHS spending medicines: Following the recent general election, the pressing topic of NHS spending is ever pressing. But putting a figure on its medicines spending is far from straightforward.
NHS spending medicines – Nobody is able to answer the simple question of ‘how much the NHS across the UK spends on medicines?’. This reflects a number of factors: the NHS is a devolved responsibility so there is spending on medicines that is measured in separate data across the four nations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. So to simplify, let’s focus on England and look into the complexities of NHS spend on medicines in just one nation of the UK.
NHS gross spending on medicines in England: in absolute terms, high and growing fast
NHS Digital provides statistics on spending on medicines in the community and in hospital. Their most recent statistics go up to the financial year 2015/16, but also provide the trends by going back to 2010/11 (figure 1). The headline is that the NHS in England undeniably spends a lot on medicines – there’s no way that over £16 billion can ever be seen as inconsequential – and it’s been growing overall, particularly driven by the costs of hospital medicines Source: Data from NHS Digital excluding discounts. FP10 is prescribing of controlled substances.
NHS gross spending on medicines in England: in relative terms, small and growing slowly.
Spending on prescriptions needs to be seen in the wider context: after all, there is much else that the NHS spends on. Taking this wider context suggests that the cost of prescriptions has risen only a little from 2010/11 to 2015/16: increasing in the share of NHS funding from 12.9% in 2010/11 to 14.3% by 2015/16 (figure 3). Taking an even wider context: it’s somewhere in the region of 1% of the UK’s GDP.