To measure the variation in prescribing of second‐line non‐insulin diabetes drugs.

Materials and Methods

We evaluated time trends for the period 1998 to 2016, using England’s publicly available prescribing datasets, and stratified these by the order in which they were prescribed to patients using the Clinical Practice Research Datalink. We calculated the proportion of each class of diabetes drug as a percentage of the total per year. We evaluated geographical variation in prescribing using general practice-level data for the latest 12 months (to August 2017), with aggregation to Clinical Commissioning Groups. We calculated percentiles and ranges, and plotted maps.


Prescribing of therapy after metformin is changing rapidly. Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitor use has increased markedly, with DPP-4 inhibitors now the most common second-line drug (43% prescriptions in 2016). The use of sodium-glucose co-transporter-2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors also increased rapidly (14% new second-line, 27% new third-line prescriptions in 2016). There was wide geographical variation in choice of therapies and average spend per patient. In contrast, metformin was consistently used as a first-line treatment in accordance with guidelines.


In England there is extensive geographical variation in the prescribing of diabetes drugs after metformin, and increasing use of higher-cost DPP-4 inhibitors and SGLT-2 inhibitors compared with low-cost sulphonylureas. Our findings strongly support the case for comparative effectiveness trials of current diabetes drugs.