Pharmaceutical drug prices – fair?

By Lee Ronan, Commercial Director, CSL


Pharmaceutical drug pricing has not had the best of press over the recent months (Not that is ever really gets positive press!). With a couple of companies receiving fines relating to price increases (, and the recent article about cancer drugs increasing in price after their patent expiry ( the saying ‘No news is good news’ is probably quite appropriate with regards to drug pricing. This got me thinking, can the primary care prescribing data identify any of these larger drug price changes?

What can the data tell us?

The primary care prescribing data provides us with monthly prescribing insights at a GP practice level for every pack of every product prescribed in the UK. With 6 years now available, surely it is possible to use these freely available data to identify products that appear to have a price change. Here is a brief look at some of my findings: –

Nitrazepam Oral Susp 2.5mg/5ml

Looking at the chart above you can be very confident that a substantial price increase has occurred for this product in December 2015.  This got me thinking, how long does it take the NHS to identify these changes and adapt its behaviour (IE. prescribe something else).  With a little bit of desk research I was able to find NHS communications from a CSU alerting its CCG’s to this issue.

Source: Google “PT-116-Nitrazepam-liquid-1”

I have two thoughts on this:

  1. Does every CSU do this
  2. It was not until Late March 2016 that the CSU sent this communication.

With the freely available data we have, we could see this price change by Mid Feb so why did it take the CSU so long?

Another Example

As you can image Nitrazepam was not the only drug where the data appears to show a significant price change.

Ropinirole Tab 5mg

Looking at the chart above you can be very confident that a substantial price increase has occurred for this product in July 2016.

With a little bit of desk research I was again able to find NHS communications around this increase:

Source: via Google “Ropinirole HCl_Tab 5mg price rise”

What is interesting here is the price increase was granted by the Department of Health due to supply constraints. News like this never makes it to the press, I wonder why…


I am delighted with the variety of insights that I have been able to generate from the freely available NHS primary care prescribing data.  Whether that be tracking adherence to formulary, look into dispensing doctor ‘deals’ (both covered in my previous blogs) or as in this case spot interesting changes in drug prices. Add to this the fact that data for England is only 2-3 weeks slower than the traditional data audit, but with the benefit of 6 years of continuous data available, now is the time to be mining these data. 

If you would like to know more about these datasets, please get in touch. 

ASP data was calculated using the primary care prescribing data released under the open government licence v3.0


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