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Prescription items in Northern Ireland top previous record


Prescription items in Northern Ireland top previous record

The 12 months to March 31 this year saw prescription items rise by 3.3 per cent in Northern Ireland, reaching 44.6 million dispensed items – the highest number ever recorded. 

The NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) published its report on 2022-23 general pharmaceutical services last week, revealing that as of March 31 there were 525 community pharmacies – one fewer than in the previous year’s report.

“This is the lowest number of pharmacies here in the last 10 years, a period in which numbers were relatively stable until around 2018-19 when numbers began reducing from the 532 open in that year,” said NISRA.

While six of Northern Ireland’s 11 districts have seen pharmacy numbers hold steady or decrease slightly in the last 10 years, five districts have seen a decrease, with the greatest percentage drop seen (6.9 per cent, or two pharmacies) in Lisburn & Castlereagh. 

The NISRA report describes a “slow decline” in the ratio of pharmacies to population, with 27.4 pharmacies per 100,000 people in 2022-23, down from 29.2 in 2012-13.

“This trend has been caused by population growth combined with a reduction in pharmacy numbers,” according to the report, which adds: “At a UK level, Northern Ireland continues to have the most pharmacies per 100,000 population.” The UK average in 2021-22 was 20.9 pharmacies per 100,000 people. 

This disparity may be due in part to the “low number of dispensing GP practices in Northern Ireland,” NISRA speculated. There are just four dispensing practices there, compared to 1,107 in Great Britain.

The report estimated that more than 99 per cent of the Northern Ireland population lives within five miles of their nearest pharmacy, with 72.4 per cent of people living one mile or less from their nearest pharmacy.

Community pharmacies accounted for 98.1 per cent of all dispensing contractors and 99.3 per cent of all dispensed items, with appliance contractors and dispensing doctors making up the remainder. The average number of items dispensed per pharmacy rose to 84,364, a 3.5 per cent increase on the previous year.

“The number of pharmacies dispensing more than 10,000 items per month has risen significantly over the past decade,” said NISRA, explaining that there are now 91 such pharmacies compared with 47 in 2012-13. Meanwhile, the number of pharmacies dispensing 2,000 items or less per month has “nearly halved,” with just 16 in that bracket.

The most commonly prescribed medicine was atorvastatin, with almost 1.6 million items dispensed, followed by omeprazole (1.46 million items), co-codamol (1.25 million) and levothyroxine (1.1 million). These were also four most dispensed medicines in 2021-22.

The total ingredient cost was £486.9m, an increase of 6.7 per cent compared to the previous year and “approximately double the increase in the number of items dispensed,” NISRA noted.

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