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NHS spent nearly £100MILLION on prescribing paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen last year

This chart shows how NHS spending on medicines has grown steadily over the past eight years, totaling £9.69bn in 2021/22.  This is despite the NHS promising to ban the prescription of over-the-counter medicines

More than £100million was spent last year on prescriptions for common medicines like paracetamol, despite being available on the high street for pennies.

Official data also shows that the NHS has spent thousands on illegal substances such as cocaine for use as an anesthetic in England.

It comes just a day after Health Secretary Sajid Javid vowed that “every pound” in the NHS will be “well spent” going forward.

In total, the NHS spent £9.69 billion on prescription medicines in England in the 2021/22 financial year.

And that’s despite the fact that since 2018 the health service has banned family doctors and other prescribing doctors from dispensing medicines that patients can buy themselves cheaply in stores.

Think tanks said today that the latest social security tax hike will dismay taxpayers at the NHS’ “wasteful” spending on “pointless prescriptions”.

Paracetamol accounted for £73.7million of expenditure and was prescribed over 16million times at around £4.50 per pack – roughly 15 times the price of a packet of paracetamol at Tesco supermarket.

This chart shows how NHS spending on medicines has grown steadily over the past eight years, totaling £9.69bn in 2021/22.  This is despite the NHS promising to ban the prescription of over-the-counter medicines

This chart shows how NHS spending on medicines has grown steadily over the past eight years, totaling £9.69bn in 2021/22. This is despite the NHS promising to ban the prescription of over-the-counter medicines

At a glance, how much has the NHS spent on common medicines?

The common painkiller paracetamol has been prescribed 16 million times at a cost of £73.7million.

Aspirin, which can be used as a pain reliever or as a medicine to prevent heart attacks, was prescribed 20.8 million times and cost £25.2 million.

Ibuprofen, a pain reliever for musculoskeletal and joint disorders, cost the taxpayer £12.6million and has been prescribed nearly 3.5million times.

Packs of all three of these drugs can be bought in UK supermarkets for less than £1.

Viagra, an erectile dysfunction drug, cost the taxpayer £6.8million for 3.3million doses.

At £2.06 per dose, this is actually cheaper than many pharmacies, which can charge around £4.25, although the price varies.

Aspirin prescriptions will cost taxpayers over £25.2m in 2021/22, at around £1.22 a pack, around three times the price of a pack at Sainsbury’s.

The NHS also paid more than £12.6million for ibuprofen last year.

The cost per pack was 12.5 times higher than Tesco’s own brand.

Healthcare also spent £6.8million on Viagra prescriptions, despite the blue pill becoming an over-the-counter drug in 2018.

TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive John O’Connell said the public was dismayed at the “wasteful” cost of prescribing drugs that could be bought cheaper in a supermarket.

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“Taxpayers are fed up with overpaying for pointless prescriptions,” he said.

“As households struggle with increases in Social Security, there can be no excuse for doctors prescribing treatments that cost pennies over the counter.

“More than ever, the NHS needs to tackle waste and focus resources on frontline healthcare.”

NHS prescribing data also showed that nearly 15,000 penile vacuum pumps to treat erectile dysfunction were purchased at a cost of £1.6million last year.

Cocaine was prescribed 17 times in 2020/21 at a cost of £9,406, around £550 per dose.

Ketamine, used as an illegal party drug, has been prescribed 328 times this year for just under £20,000, or £60 a dose.

Both drugs are rarely used for medical purposes by the NHS, with cocaine being used as part of a medicated mouthwash for oral inflammation and ketamine being used as a potent pain reliever.

Total NHS spending on prescriptions of £9.6bn was an increase of £83.7m (0.87%) compared to total spending last year.

High Blood Pressure Drugs Atorvastatin was the most prescribed drug in England, with 53.4 million prescriptions.

The anti-blood clot drug apixaban was the most expensive single drug, costing a total of £401million despite only being prescribed 8million times.

The NHS banned the prescription of over-the-counter medicines such as eye drops, laxatives, sunscreen, paracetamol and anti-dandruff shampoo in 2018 in a bid to save the financially strapped health service £100million a year.

However, as today’s figures show, the prescription of some over-the-counter drugs remains high.

Critics of the prescription ban for some items said poorer households would be hit hardest by the changes and some families could be forced to go without essential medicines.

Yesterday Mr Javid, who is under massive pressure to make the struggling NHS more efficient, promised that “every pound” will be “well spent” going forward.

His comments come as the NHS, which receives £136bn in taxpayer money every year, will receive an additional £12.5bn a year by 2024, funded by a controversial 1.25 per cent increase in Social Security.

A spokesman for NHS England said paracetamol should not be routinely prescribed to save the health service money, but they added that medics could still do so in certain circumstances.

“NHS England has advised that acetaminophen should not be routinely prescribed to free up tens of millions of pounds that can be reinvested in patient care,” they said.

“Doctors can still prescribe over-the-counter medicines in exceptional cases, as only the Department of Health and Human Services can blacklist medicines and treatments.”

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