Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


The NHS deserves better use of hospital medicines data

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 17 July 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m2607

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Rapid Response:

Re: The NHS deserves better use of hospital medicines data

Dear Editor,

In July 2020 we argued in the BMJ[1] that hospital medicines data should be openly shared so that a wide range of analysts can explore trends and variation in the use of medicines across secondary care. This has huge potential to improve patient care, but also cost effectiveness, because hospitals see the highest usage of new and expensive medications. As illustration of this, while primary care prescribing costs have remained stable at approximately £8bn per year, hospital prescribing costs have risen from £4.2bn to £8.3bn over six years.

We are pleased to report that the NHS has now shared the hospital pharmacy stock control data [2] that we requested. To demonstrate the power of this data to the wider community we have produced an initial “proof of concept” analysis examining trends and variation of prescribing for biologics used commonly in asthma.[3] In this data we can already see very substantial regional variation in use of biologics for severe asthma, both in terms of overall volume, and choice of medicine that is used. For example: hospitals in London and North West regions are more likely to issue benralizumab than other regions; hospitals in the Midlands, North East and Yorkshire, and the South East are more likely to issue mepolizumab; and hospitals in the East of England region appear to issue biologics for asthma at one third the rate of London hospitals.

We encourage the wider community to engage with this data. Our service allows any interested individual to explore primary care prescribing at the level of individual brands, doses and chemicals at individual practices, in individual months, and has served over 165,000 users during the preceding year. The OpenPrescribing team is now seeking funding to incorporate the new hospital medicines data into this service so that any interested clinician, organisation, commissioner or researcher can rapidly access it and run their own analyses in context.

Anna Rowan
Brian MacKenna
Ben Goldacre

1 Goldacre B, MacKenna B. The NHS deserves better use of hospital medicines data. BMJ 2020;370:m2607. doi:10.1136/bmj.m2607
2 NHS England. Secondary Care Medicines Data (SCMD) - Open Data Portal BETA. NHS Business Services Authority. (accessed 22 Feb 2021).
3 Anna Rowan, Brian MacKenna, Ben Goldacre. Biologic medicines for severe asthma. The DataLab. 24 November 2020.

Competing interests: No competing interests

22 February 2021
Ben Goldacre
Anna Rowan, Brian MacKenna
The DataLab
Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK