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 2020 to 2021. 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 2020/21 was £1.4 billion, unchanged compared to 2019/20. This follows a period of largely rising cost, increasing by 19% over the last 10 years.

Products reimbursed

  • The total number of items reimbursed between 2019/20 and 2020/21 decreased by 4%, from 106.4 million to 102.1 million items. Over the last 10 years the total number of items reimbursed has increased by 7.7% from 94.9 million items in 2011/12.
  • The cost of items reimbursed (Net Ingredient Cost) decreased by 3% between 2019/20 and 2020/21 and increased by 13% over the last 10 years.
  • Following a spike in item volume in March 2020, the number of items reimbursed in 2020/21 was mostly lower than the equivalent month in 2019/20.
  • Apixaban, used to prevent blood clots, and beclometasone dipropionate and formoterol fumarate, used to treat respiratory conditions, had the highest total Gross Ingredient Cost in 2020/21, at a cost of £30.5m and £22.1m respectively.

Services provided

  • The cost for remuneration of services has increased by 19.2% between 2019/20 and 2020/21 to £297.4 million. This was impacted by additional funding announcements made in 2020/21 to support the sector’s response to COVID-19.


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 27 September 2022.

General enquiries

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

Media enquiries

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

Requesting other formats and reporting issues

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: 07 October 2022
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