The Drug Tariff, published on behalf of the Department of Health and updated monthly, is a strange and mysterious document, written largely in legalese, and understood by pharmacists and almost no-one else. Ask a GP where they find out the cost of the drug, and they’ll say either their computer system or the BNF. For pharmacists, it’s usually the Drug Tariff (or the Tariff). And that’s usually where the most accurate price will be found.

In 21 parts (including Part XXI, now intentionally blank) it covers a wide range of areas, from professional fees paid to pharmacists (Part IIIA), consumables and containers (Part IV - 1.24p on every prescription to pay for a spoon or oral syringe), to “Payments to Chemists Suspended by the NHS Commssioning Board or by Direction of the First-Tier Tribunal” (Part XIX - have a read - Payments to Chemists Suspended by the NHS Commissioning Board or by Direction of the First-Tier Tribunal)).

However, there is one part which is used more often than any other - Part VIII(A). This lists “the basic price (see Part II, Clause 8) on which payment will be calculated pursuant to Part I Clause 5B 1 for the dispensing of that drug”. In other words, this is the NHS price list for most drugs prescribed in primary care. It’s worthy of a fuller description, given the vagaries of Categories A, C and M, but we’ll leave that for another blog post.

The issue with the Tariff is that it still takes the form of its original, paper origins. There is now a version available online, as a pdf, searchable webpage or xls download, but it is still a snapshot of the current month. Although the Tariff will have a symbol to see whether something has increased or decreased in price from the previous month, it still only has that month’s prices. I suspect most CCG medicines optimisation teams across the country will have a cupboard much like mine, keeping as many back copies as they can:

Also, when a drug is subject to a “price concession” (essentially when it goes out of stock, and the price goes up dramatically), the NHSBSA pages aren’t updated to reflect the true cost for that month: you have to go to the PSNC for this. As is so often the case, the data is dispersed and messy.

Therefore, in order to help users, we’ve created a new tool: the Drug Tariff trends viewer, available at or from the trends menu from the front page.

This tool allows you to select a drug and see how its price and tariff category has changed since April 2010:

The graph not only shows the cost, but any changes in the Drug Tariff Category. You can clearly see in the example above where the atorvastatin patent expired and the price was no longer based on Lipitor (Category C) and instead was based on the generic (Category M).

By hovering over the graph, you will get a pop up of the information:

You can also select multiple strengths, or multiple drugs, by entering them into the search tool. As an interesting example, did you know that there are 30mg and 60mg atorvastatin, and they are much more expensive than the common strengths?

The viewer will also show you where there are known price concessions - the impact of which we wrote about last week.

The tool will take a look at the PSNC price concessions webpage every day, and update our database when it finds a change. The Drug Tariff data will be uploaded when it is available from the NHS Business Services Authority. The data wasn’t particularly simple to find and wrangle - we’ve written more about that here.

We hope you find the new tool useful, and as always, it’s fully open and free to use. So please: have a play; share it if you like it; tell us how you use it; and, as always, let us know what you think by emailing us at, or pinging us on Twitter or Facebook.