Health figures show steep rise in use of diabetes drugs in UK

by Barbara Hewitt on August 3, 2017

It is well known that the number of people with diabetes is growing around the world but new figures from the UK reveal just how many more are now taking medication to control the condition.

Prescriptions for diabetes drugs from the National Health Serviced have doubled to over 50 million in the last 10 years and family doctors are now spending a tenth of their medicines budget on diabetes.


Simon O’Neill, director of health intelligence for charity Diabetes UK, said the rise is not a surprise as the number of people diagnosed with diabetes has risen by 54% over the same period, but the figures show how much the cost is in terms of drugs.

‘Diabetes is one of our biggest health crises, and with 12 million people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it’s clear that focusing on prevention is vital to prevent costs rising even higher,’ he said.

But he also paid tribute to the doctors who are helping to make sure people with diabetes get the right medication and help them to keep their blood glucose at safe levels, thus preventing devastating, and costly, complications such as cardiovascular and kidney disease further down the line.

The figures show that prescribing for diabetes in primary care has grown nearly twice as quickly as the rise in diabetes prevalence across the population at 40% compared to 22.6%. Prescriptions for the most commonly prescribed diabetes drug, metformin, rose by 51.5%.

Looking across the whole of the last decade, prescribing of metformin for diabetes has more than doubled, from 9.4 million items in 2006/2007 to 20.8 million items in 2016/2017.

In 2016/2017 prescription items for diabetes accounted for around £1 in every £9 of the cost of prescription items across primary care. In 2006/2007 it was less than £1 in every £14.

It also shows that the cost of diabetes drugs has increased over the last year, compared to the cost of prescriptions across primary care falling overall and has been the case since 2007/2008.

Between 2015/2016 and 2016/2017, there was a marginal reduction in the overall cost of prescription items across primary care, with the figure falling below £9 billion. But, over this period, there was a £27 million increase for diabetes which totalled £983.7 million in 2016/2017.

The Prescribing for Diabetes report also shows that drugs classified as other antidiabetic drugs, often new products to the market, are the most expensive category of drugs used in diabetes, for the first time overtaking the cost of human analogue insulin.

They account for a low proportion of all items prescribed for diabetes, but that figure is rising. In 2016/2017 they cost £322.5 million, compared with £103.0 million in 2006/2007.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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