Huge costs a bitter pill to swallow

Blackpool NHS splashes out the fourth biggest amount in the country on painkillers.
Blackpool NHS splashes out the fourth biggest amount in the country on painkillers.
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BLACKPOOL NHS splashes out the fourth biggest amount in the country on painkillers, according to shocking new figures.

Data reveals health chiefs in the resort dish out pills worth around £2.3m a year – the equivalent of £14.29 per person living in the area.

MP for Blackpool South Gordon Marsden.

MP for Blackpool South Gordon Marsden.

That figure overshadows the national average of £8.80 per head and the lowest figure, of just £3.26 per head, in some of the more affluent areas of the south.

Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South, said: “In Blackpool, we have higher numbers of older people and people affected by chronic and long-term conditions and disabilities, partly due to being a seaside town, so I think this causes some bias in the data.

“What needs to happen is for doctors and the health service to support people in other ways and other pain strategies.

“This is precisely the sort of pro-active public health strategy the primary care trust has been putting in place, but now there is much uncertainty and upheaval with all the changes in the NHS and abolition of PCTs, I am worried the focus on this may be lost.”

The data analysis by firm SSentif, which examined figures for 2010/11 from the NHS Information Centre and Office for National Statistics, found a slight correlation with deprivation and almost none with age in the north. In the south, there was a strong correlation between painkiller prescribing and age, but almost no link with deprivation. London has three of the most deprived areas in the country – Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham – where spend per head was less than £5.50.

In the highest spending areas, only Middlesborough, Hartlepool and Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale were higher than Blackpool. The analysis also found nationally, PCTs spent thousands prescribing over-the-counter painkillers and branded cold and flu remedies such as Lemsip and Beechams.

Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “Prescribing painkillers is always a clinical decision by doctors, but I’m sure NHS Blackpool will want to examine the underlying reasons why the prescribing rate is so high here.”

Emma Boon, from the Taxpayers Alliance, added: “These figures raise serious questions about why these common items are being prescribed. There are costs associated with the work created by issuing prescriptions and this doesn’t look like taxpayers are getting value for money.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “It is important those living in pain should be able to obtain adequate relief. There are many factors that affect the number of prescriptions for painkillers dispensed in one particular area and no one factor can be looked at in isolation.”