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Dispensing in smarter way 'could save £54m'

By Victoria O'Hara

GPs could save the Northern Ireland health budget up to £54 million a year if greater efficiencies were made when prescribing drugs, an Audit Office report has found.

Prescription costs were found to be higher here compared to other areas of the UK. The report acknowledged differences in practices across the UK but calculated that if the prescribing costs of local GPs had been in line with those in Wales in 2013, there was potential to save up to £73m.

The Health and Social Care Board shows annual GP prescribing efficiency savings of £132m had been made within four years.

Last year community pharmaceutical services cost £460m and pharmacies dispensed almost 39m prescription items.

The Department of Health described the audit data analysis as "crude".

And the British Medical Association said the success in saving money was "unequalled in the health service".

The Audit Office report said there was scope for further improvements. Among the suggestions is switching to less expensive statins to treat heart problems which would have saved around £2.7m in 2013.

The report also estimated that in 2013, if practices with above-average prescribing costs came down to the average of £41,004, efficiencies of around £19m could have been achieved.

A BMA spokesman 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."

In a statement, the Department of Health said when addressing the comparative data with Wales that "clearly the contexts will be different in two jurisdictions".

But it acknowledged the report identified further efficiencies may be possible.

A DHSSPS spokeswoman said: "In the four-year period to 2013/14 the department has delivered £132m in prescribing efficiencies.

"The department will continue to seek out further deliverable efficiencies through its ongoing engagement with the HSC Board, GPs, pharmacists and the pharmaceutical industry."

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