OpenPrescribing: putting data and statistics into action to save the NHS money

To identify the biggest prescribing quality improvement and cost-saving opportunities for General Practices and Clinical Commissioning Groups every month, and help them to improve, the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences’ EBM DataLab brings together health researchers and software developers to transform large prescribing datasets into useful data explorer tools for coalface NHS staff.

girl typing with is a suite of openly accessible and interactive tools that lets any interested person explore exactly what is being prescribed in each NHS GP practice in England. It is used to identify individual practices or regions that are ‘outliers’ on effectiveness, safety, and cost of prescribing, so that they can improve their prescribing practice. It can also be used to identify GP surgeries or regions that are slower to respond to changes in evidence or guidelines.

With live updating each month on prescribing trends across England, delivers dashboards with over 70 safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness measures for every individual practice and Clinical Commissioning Group. In addition, the bespoke data analysis tool, email alerts service, and dashboards on out-of-stock medicines are used by clinicians, policymakers, researchers, patients and the public, with over 100,000 users over the last year.

Using, the EBM DataLab team, headed by Dr Ben Goldacre, also produce and disseminate a raft of academic papers that describe their methodology, evaluate their impact and, working with the media, highlight prescribing practices of national concern to the public. They also work with policymakers at national levels to advocate for better use of data to improve outcomes across the NHS.

They estimated that up to £410m every year could be saved by the NHS in England if all GP surgeries were prescribing as well as the best 10% on the cost-effectiveness of each "unit" of every drug prescribed without changing patient care. In real terms, GP surgeries who used the "price-per-unit" tool in the first three months since it launched were found to save £243,000, with Clinical Commissioning Groups saving £1.47m.

The resource is being used across the NHS to identify prescribing improvements and cost savings by changing practices locally, regionally and nationally and has already had substantial policy impact since launching in 2015.

Funded by The Health Foundation, NHS England and the Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.