About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland reports on the number and cost of NHS prescriptions dispensed in the community in Scotland for the financial year 2019/20. It includes a breakdown of dispensing contractor payments, which are for services provided (remuneration) and products dispensed (reimbursement). The report also includes additional information on specific Community Pharmacy services to the public.

Main points

Overall cost

  • The total (net) cost for dispensing items and providing services in 2019/20 was £1.4 billion, representing an increase of 4.3% compared to 2018/19. This follows a period of largely rising cost, increasing by 22.8% over the last 10 years.
  • Analysis of monthly figures shows that much of this increase was due an unprecedented surge in prescription items dispensed in March 2020, due to increasing concerns around covid-19.

Products reimbursed

  • The total number of items reimbursed between 2018/19 and 2019/20 increased by 3%, from 103.4 million to 106.4 million items. Over the last 10 years the total number of items reimbursed has increased by 16% from 91.4 million items in 2010/11.
  • The cost of items reimbursed (Net Ingredient Cost) has increased by just under 20% over the last 10 years, and between 2018/19 and 2019/20 it increased by 2%.
  • The number of items dispensed in March 2020 was 9.8 million, an increase of 14% compared to March 2019.
  • Apixaban, used to prevent blood clots, and sofosbuvir & velpatasvir, used to treat chronic hepatitis C infection, had the highest total Gross Ingredient Cost in 2019/20, at combined cost of £51.5 million.

Services provided

  • The cost for remuneration of services has increased by 9.5% between 2018/19 and 2019/20 to £249.4 million.


Information on NHS services provided in community pharmacies, NHS prescriptions dispensed in Scotland and drugs prescribed in Scotland and dispensed elsewhere in the United Kingdom is obtained from the Prescribing Information System. GPs write the vast majority of these prescriptions, with the remainder written by authorised prescribers such as nurses, dentists and allied health professionals (AHPs). The data also include prescriptions written in hospitals that were dispensed in the community, but prescriptions dispensed within hospitals are not included. All these prescriptions are dispensed by dispensing contractors, who include community pharmacies, dispensing doctors, a small number of specialist appliance suppliers and stoma providers. Dispensing contractors receive two distinct types of payment: remuneration for the service they provide and reimbursement for the products they dispense. Payments are derived from information gathered by Practitioner Services after the pricing of prescriptions has taken place and then payment is made on behalf of NHS Boards. The main statistics reported on in this publication are volume, which is the count of all the prescription items reimbursed; the costs of remuneration of services and the cost of items reimbursed.

Further information

Data from this publication are available from the Remuneration section of the Data and Intelligence website (external website). For related topics, please see the Prescribing and Medicines section of the Data and Intelligence website (external website).

The next release of this publication will be 30 September 2021.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.prescribing@phs.scot.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

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If you require publications or documents in other formats, please email phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

To report any issues with a publication, please email phs.generalpublications@phs.scot.

Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 21 March 2024
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