Publication of General Pharmaceutical Service Statistics for Northern Ireland 2020/21

Date published: 24 June 2021

The HSC Business Services Organisation (BSO) has today published its annual General Pharmaceutical Service Statistics for Northern Ireland.

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The report contains information on prescription dispensing and payments in relation to community dispensing (i.e. dispensing by community pharmacies, dispensing doctors and appliance suppliers).

Information is provided at Northern Ireland level with further breakdowns at Local Government District (LGD) and Local Commissioning Group (LCG) level.

Key Points

  • At the end of 2020/21, Northern Ireland had 528 community pharmacies, three less than last year.
  • On average, the Northern Ireland population live less than 1 mile from a community pharmacy.  However, there is a distinct variation in urban and rural settings with Belfast Local Government District residents living, on average, within 0.3 miles of their nearest pharmacy compared to 1.6 miles for those living in Fermanagh and Omagh.
  • Community Pharmacies were responsible for dispensing over 99% of items with the remainder dispensed by Appliance Contractors and Dispensing Doctors.
  • On average each community pharmacy dispensed over 78,000 items in 20/21.
  • The number of items dispensed fell by just over 3% to 41.7 million in 2020/21 compared with the previous year. This is the first decline seen since the series began and may be as a result of prescribing patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Despite the decrease in number of dispensed items, the total ingredient cost rose by over 2% in the last year to £454.3 million.  Total ingredient costs have fluctuated since the beginning of the series but are now around 10% higher than they were in 2013/14. 
  • Almost 23% of the total ingredient cost of items dispensed was related to the Central Nervous System.
  • Around 45% of prescription items were dispensed to patients aged 65 or over, with a further 35% to patients in the 45-64 age group.
  • Almost one in five (19%) of the Northern Ireland population received anti-depressant medication during 2020/21.  This translates to almost 24% of the female population and approaching 14% of males.
  • The number of items dispensed was over 50% higher in the most deprived areas in NI compared to the least deprived.  Conversely, the average ingredient cost per item was over 20% higher in the least deprived areas.
  • Northern Ireland has the highest ingredient cost per person in the UK at almost £240 per year compared to the lowest, England, which is almost 30% lower at almost £170.

Notes to editors: 

  1. This is the second year that separate reports have been released for each of the main Family Practitioner Services (FPS) service areas, replacing the FPS compendium published for 2017/18 and 2018/19. This report was produced by the Health and Social Care’s Business Services Organisation (BSO) which was specified as an Official Statistics producer body under the Official Statistics Order (Northern Ireland) 2012. It provides the definitive source of figures on BSO FPS General Pharmaceutical Service activity and finalises the provisional quarterly figures which have been released over the course of 2020/21.
  2. Family Practitioner Services (FPS) is responsible for annual payments to primary care contractors including GP Practices, Dentists, Opticians and Community Pharmacists on behalf of the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB). In 2020/21 these payments were in excess of £965 million.
  3. The data relate to BSO’s General Pharmaceutical Service payment and volumes reimbursed and have been sourced from administrative systems. It is important to note that, unless otherwise stated, figures relate to the year in which a payment was processed by BSO and this may not necessarily coincide with when prescription items were dispensed (i.e. some prescriptions from a previous year may be processed in the current year whilst, conversely, some prescriptions relating to the current year may not be processed until a later year).
  4. Note that prescribing patterns toward the end of 2019/20 and into 2020/21 will have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst GP and Prescribing services continued to operate throughout the period, there were some changes to service delivery (for example, GPs carrying out initial telephone consultations) which, in combination with behavioural change in patients arising from the pandemic, will have had an effect on typical prescribing patterns.
  5. This publication introduces an analysis of patient numbers receiving medication in three specified therapy groups – Anti-depressants, Diabetes medication & products and Opioid Analgesics.  The information presented shows the number of patients who have had one or more of the specified items dispensed to them over the 12 month period.  Breakdowns by geographic location, age and gender are provided.
  6. Whilst a number of UK comparisons have been included in the report, there can be important differences in how services are delivered between countries that can impact on the figures.
  7. The report itself presents high level summary information with all of the detailed data tables consigned to the accompanying Excel appendices. The figures are prepared and released by independent NISRA statisticians working within BSO’s FPS Information Unit.
  8. Quarterly updates for 2021/22, for key report tables, will be released on a provisional basis on the FPS section of the BSO website.
  9. These will be added to the historic quarterly series. The timetable for the release of the quarterly updates will also be published on the BSO website and all publications, both quarterly and annual, will be formally announced on the UK.Gov release calendar
  10. Electronic copies of the Bulletin and associated Excel tables are available free of charge from the BSO website
  11. This is an Official Statistics publication and therefore follows the Code of Practice for Statistics.  You can find further information about the Code of Practice online.
  12. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email:
  13. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.
  14. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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