The Wonder Of The World it is

The NHS spends over £80 million each year handing out paracetamol with the average prescription costing 20 times the price of a packet of the simple painkiller in the supermarket.

This year 22 million prescriptions for paracetamol were written at a cost to tax payers of over £80 million pounds – an average cost of £3.67 per prescription.

This is a 13 per cent increase on last year when £73.5million was spent on the medicine, Government figures issued in a written answer have shown.


20 thoughts on “The Wonder Of The World it is”

  1. Jeepers surely even the Pentagon would blush at that blatant overspend. I assume if Tesco can sell for 15p they must pay 5?

  2. Did you even read the article, Tim, or just the headline? You can only buy Paracetamol in larger quantities than 16 pills at a time if you have a prescription for it. In larger quantities, the price is very reasonable.

    Then there are the prescriptions for people receiving complicated medication, where it’s important that they don’t take anything without consulting a doctor first. If the Paracetamol is cheaper than the prescription, the pharmacy will just give them that instead, rather than filling the prescription.

    Finally, I’m sure a very large proportion of the prescriptions represent patients in hospital, where no non-prescribed drugs can be handed out. The costs of filling the prescription there are vastly lower than the average, obviously, since it just involves someone on the ward counting pills for multiple patients from a large bottle that is part of the ward supplies, and then handing them out with the rest of the meds.

  3. There’s a schedule of prices pharmacists get paid for drugs, which for paracetamol works out at slightly over 3p per 500mg tablet. And Boots will sell you paracetamol without prescription at slightly over 3p per 500mg tablet. (The Boots price in the Telegraph article seems to be an invention.)

    It’s true of course that the wholesale price of paracetamol is a lot less than that, and supermarkets sell it cheaper than pharmacies.

    Apparently the NHS could save some money by not prescribing paracetamol tablets to people who get free prescriptions. But that would reduce the profitability of pharmacies, and we might end up paying more for other drugs to make up for it.

    The advantage of including paracetamol in prescriptions is that vulnerable patients get all their drugs in one go.

  4. Bloke in Germany in Hong Kong

    I echo the previous comments – not the entire story is considered here. There is an element of getting granny with dodgy hip her month’s worth in one go rather than having to struggle on two buses and back to the asda every four days. And 22e6 over ~65e6 customers is an astonishingly low number of scrips for a hugely commonly used medicine.

    There also comes a point where worrying about small price differentials begins to cost more than the money saved, especially when the time involved is that of doctory types who cost several hundred quid an hour. There’s an economic term for that, isn’t there, some variant of opportunity cost?

  5. There is quite good evidence that paracetemol does no good for lower back pain. I wonder how many of the prescriptions are for that. (Apols for letting vulgar science intrude on this conversation.)

  6. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    I believe that it is legally impossible to buy more than 100 paracetamol tablets in one go prescription or not.

    We had the same in Austria: some drug with a complicated name at 9 Eur for 100, turned out to be paracetamol. I guess the sawbones have to keep a track of what they prescribe. Just saying to the punter “oh just take a couple of paracetamol” leaves them open to all sorts of trouble.

  7. @Dearieme

    Re lower back pain, I have back related issues from various injuries over the years.

    Paracetamol certainly *seems* to do something for me when it’s merely grumbling (when it’s properly bad it takes cocodamol or similar).

    Weird thing is, when I go skiing, I never have any back trouble at all, and I ski very quickly with a lot of concomitant compression of my lower back eg knees coming up to my chin at various points, sudden drops offs of several feets etc.

    This leads me to think the whole thing is actually in my head, or at least a lot of it, and that maybe the paracetamol is working as a placebo.

    But that doesn’t explain why cocodamol works (which it does) when it’s worse (which it sometimes is).

    Mysterious thing, pain.

  8. Your complicated name would be acetaminophen Bloke no Longer in Austria. The name Paracetamol didn’t seem to be recognised in Belgium either, and pharmacists had a stranglehold – I tended to stock up on over the counter pharmaceuticals back in the UK.

  9. Re the ‘paracetamol doesn’t fix lower back pain’ study, I believe that the study proved that taking paracetamol doesn’t ‘cure’ lower back pain any better than a placebo over a particular time span.

    The study said nothing about pain relief which is what paracetemol is for. Anti-inflamatories, (which I can’t take), may be better at ‘curing’ lower back pain as may strangely shaped cushions, stiff, (or soft), beds or exercises involving one’s lordosis but paracetamol is for easing the pain of putting your socks on.

    Incidentally, whenever I get a really bad back I am faced with the dilemma of taking cocodamol for pain relief and suffering the horrendous constipation that results or grinning and bearing it while exercising my lordosis.

  10. @Interested

    I have found that I get more back pain when I let my fitness go and my weight starts to increase. Discussing this with my pysio he reckoned that a large number of people with lower back pain would benefit in the same way.

    Perhaps you are getting a bit fitter prior to and during skiing? Or maybe its the endorphins?

    @ Kevin B, this wasn’t meant a dig as its not the excuse for all. I’m currently waiting PSA results because my recent back pain isn’t caused by my lack of fitness as I’m running 15 miles a week. Furthermore I know two people who have been diagnosed with and cleared of prostate cancer and the symptoms first manifested as lower back pain.

  11. The article said: “The NHS said that prescriptions could cover hundreds of tablets at a time. ”

    A key bit of data that is missing is how many tablets were supplied. Given the claim that NHS paracetamol is up to 20 times more expensive than over the counter but, considering a prescription could be for a month rather than one box that could last a couple of days at the maximum dose it doesn’t seem outrageous to me.

    The parliamentary question is here.

  12. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    Exactly right, Germany and Austria also are Pharmacy-only for anything above alka-seltzer ( even then …). I used to do the same, I need(ed) ibuprofen for my arthritis and picked it up in Sainsburys before heading over. Aspirin is still a brand owned by Bayer and is significantly more expensive “over there”.

    I was trying to remember the brand name of paracetamol in Austria: Myxamatosis, Mexicanwave… Mexalen !

    Generic drug names are actually unknown outside pharmacists and clued-up quacks. I’ve had many very irate conversations with Austrian nurses along the lines of “How the hell can you not know this drug ?” Until i discover that they only know the brand and not the ingredients.

  13. bloke (not) in spain

    Maybe the question ought to be, why’s the NHS handing out 80 million quid of painkillers? In addition to however many get bought for 15p the pack.
    There really is that much pain around?
    Somehow I doubt it.

  14. Bloke in Germany in Hong Kong

    Bnis: He feels no pain! He feels no stress! He can’t put himself in anyone else’s shoes!

  15. Bloke no Longer in Austria


    I have lived in constant pain of one sort or another all my adult life.
    But I only take something if it gets really bad.
    (‘cos I’m ‘ard)

  16. In my own personal experience, Dave has it right and the Telegraph has it wrong. I am frequently prescribed aspirin by my GP, a prescription which is then torn up by my local pharmacy who then proceed to sell me aspirin at the going, and much cheaper, rate.

    As I understand it, the Telegraph is quoting the notional cost of prescriptions issued, not the cost of prescriptions redeemed.

    So they’re wrong.

  17. bloke (not) in spain

    It’s not never experiencing pain. Acquiring odd bits of collateral damage have been monotonously regular. But, to steal a line from the Lawrence of Arabia film, it’s not whether it hurts but whether you care that it hurts. It’s just Nature’s way of telling you that she hates you. Why give the bitch the satisfaction?

  18. Both wife and I are on free prescriptions, both regularly get a hundred pack of paracetamol.
    The alternitive is travel round 3 supermarkets each to get the stuff – as pharmacies tend to work shorter hours than we do we have to arrange to go there or get delivery.
    I’d prefer not to need any painkillers, thats not an option however.

  19. Inty>

    “Weird thing is, when I go skiing, I never have any back trouble at all, and I ski very quickly with a lot of concomitant compression of my lower back eg knees coming up to my chin at various points, sudden drops offs of several feets etc.”

    Have you tried a Swiss ball when you’re not skiing?

    The kind of skiing you’re talking about is very reliant on core stability, keeping your back good and upright, and so-on. I can well believe that it’s encouraging good posture combined with a degree of all-round exercise/stretching for your trunk muscles that you don’t normally get.

    Talking of placebos, though, I sometimes wonder if the proportion of ailments ‘cured’ by placebos doesn’t simply correspond to the proportion which are psychosomatic at root.

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