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Cost of diabetes medicines up 20% in five years, NHSBSA data shows

Antidiabetic drugs remained the most prescribed drugs for diabetes
Antidiabetic drugs remained the most prescribed drugs for diabetes

More than £1 billion was spent on diabetes medicines in England in 2019/20, up 20% on the 2015/16 figure of £958m, NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) data has revealed.

The rise to £1.2bn in 2019/20 was “driven by large increases in costs of antidiabetic drugs and insulin”, which resulted in “increased cost per person in 2019/20 [compared to] previous years”, NHSBSA said in a report on the prescribing for diabetes in England, published yesterday (November 5).

Antidiabetic drugs – generally prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes – accounted for £615 million of the total cost of diabetes medicines in 2019/20 and remain the “most prescribed treatment for diabetes”, totalling 42 million items in 2019/20.

Prescribing for diabetes medicines – including insulin, antidiabetic drugs and treatment of hypoglycaemia – steadily increased over five years, rising from 50 million items in 2015/16 to 58 million in 2019/20, according to NHSBSA.

Diabetic diagnostic and monitoring agent items, the prescribing of which was also covered by the NHSBSA analysis, decreased from 2018/19 levels of 7.25 million to 7.19 million in 2019/20.

NHSBSA attributed this decrease to “a reduction in glucose blood testing reagents, which has been balanced out by a rise in ketone blood testing reagents”.

The effect of COVID-19 on prescribing of diabetes drugs was not analysed in the NHSBSA report, which covers the financial years between April 2015 and March 2020.  

The end date means it was “is too close to the start of the pandemic to observe the full impact of COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions”, NHSBSA said. However, it noted “increased prescribing” in March, “during the onset of COVID-19”.

Patients who live in the most deprived areas in England are more likely to take diabetes medication, “with 8.6% of people in the most deprived areas receiving diabetes medication, compared to 3.4% of people in the least deprived areas”, according to the report.

PSNC’s work on cost increases

Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee director of pharmacy funding Mike Dent told C+D yesterday that the negotiator “works hard to ensure community pharmacy contractors are not required to cover the shortfall in any increased costs for the supply of NHS prescriptions”.

“In terms of products for the treatment of diabetes, we successfully fought for the inclusion of FreeStyle Libre sensors – and more recently, FreeStyle Libre 2 sensors – to the Discount Not Deducted list, as contractors were reporting there was no discount available on these items,” he added.

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