Northern Ireland

NI Audit Office: Cheaper drug prescriptions could have saved £19m

Generic pills Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Dr Tom Black said family doctors had saved £132m in the last four years through changes in prescribing

Millions of pounds could be saved in Northern Ireland's health budget if more GPs prescribed cheaper drugs, a public spending watchdog has said.

The Audit Office said potential savings of £19m could have been made last year if all GPs prescribed as efficiently as in an average performing practice.

The report acknowledged action had been taken to reduce costs.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said GPs were "at the limit of generic medicine prescribing".

'Unequalled'

Dr Tom Black, chairman of the BMA's GP committee in Northern Ireland, said family doctors had saved £132m in the last four years through changes in prescribing.

"This is despite the fact that the number of prescriptions issued has leapt almost 15%, from 34 million to 39 million scripts since 2010," he said.

"This success in saving money is unequalled in the health service."

The Audit Office said it recognised the progress made, but said there was scope for further improvements without affecting patient care.

Comparing prescribing costs with the rest of the UK, it calculated that if Northern Ireland GPs had been in line with their counterparts in Wales last year, there was the potential to save £73m.

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said "The findings in this report demonstrate the extent to which GPs choosing to prescribe cheaper, but just as clinically effective, generic medicines can lead to real savings.

"This is all the more important with demand for prescriptions rising year on year as the population ages and more and better treatments become available.

"It is important, therefore, that the Department of Health and the Health and Social Care Board continue to support cost-effective prescribing to get the most from the significant investment involved."

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