Prescriptions for drugs top 500 million

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Patients in Britain are taking more drugs with prescriptions reaching 523 million last year, a rise of nearly 12 million, the pharmaceutical industry said.

But for the first time in 10 years the cost of medicines fell, by 2 per cent. The industry calculates that medicines saved at least pounds 3.6bn in 1994 in reduced health care costs.

The annual review of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, published yesterday, shows a buoyant industry - the third largest export earner for Britain with 1994 exports reaching record levels of nearly pounds 4bn.

The NHS drugs bill was more than pounds 4bn in 1994-95. "This is still equivalent to about 18p per person per day, which we consider to be extremely reasonable given the amount of benefit it brings," said Dr Trevor Jones, director general of the APBI.

"The drop in prices means the rate of growth of the NHS medicines bill is slowing. It means patients are getting an even better bargain.

"It seems that Britain has a very significant part to play in innovation and research in world pharmaceuticals."

Dr Till Medinger, president of the association, said the reasons for the increase were complex. "Demography plays a part with more people surviving in their 70s and 80s. Elderly people do use more medicines."

Other reasons include the development of new drugs such as anti-viral treatments and demand for better health. "There is additional awareness of some diseases," Dr Jones said.

Dr Medinger said analysis of a group of diseases including asthma, high blood pressure, mental illness and infectious diseases showed a saving of pounds 3.6bn. "Over the last 25 years advances in the use of medicines have helped to halve hospital admissions in 12 major disease areas. That annual saving almost equals the total value of the industry's sales of medicines last year," he said.

Products discovered and, or, developed in the UK represent a third of the list of top 20 prescription medicines in the world. "We are now close to the US position and streets ahead of all competitor countries," Dr Jones said. American products account for 38 per cent of the world market.

More than 200 potential new medicines are under development in the UK with expenditure on research and development accounting for more than 70 per cent of the total R&D spending in Britain.

t The British Medical Association warned yesterday that pressure from drug firms and patients on GPs to prescribe was intensifying. The Citizen's Charter had added to the problems because patients were now more likely to complain if they did not get what they wanted, the BMA said.