HUNTER patients’ spending on prescription medications has increased more than 30 per cent in the past five years, government figures show.

Figures released from the federal Department of Health and Ageing show Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Hunter patient contributions went up from $35.91 million to $46.85 million between 2007 and 2012.

The figures, collated using Hunter postcodes, have some technical exclusions, meaning the actual dollar figures are likely to be higher.

It follows Newcastle Herald reports that pharmacies were making millions of dollars each year because of an 18-month lag between when the pharmaceutical industry disclosed price drops on medications and adjustments in PBS subsidies.

A Department of Health and Ageing spokesman said the price disclosure cycle was designed to allow the government to collect 12 months of sales information.

‘‘There is also a six-months analysis and processing period,’’ he said.

‘‘It is important to strike the balance between allowing new products to establish a market and ensuring taxpayers benefit from that discounting.’’

The spokesman also responded to criticisms of the maximum prices that consumers can pay, called co-payments.

Some health economists have suggested they have increased beyond inflation.

‘‘Since 2009, both the general and concessional co-payment and safety net thresholds have been indexed in accordance with the movement of the Consumer Price Index,’’ he said.

‘‘Many of the medicines subsidised by the PBS cost a great deal more than the co-payment amount.’’

In response to suggestions the PBS safety net thresholds were the same for singles and families, he said the arrangements were not designed to discriminate against single people ‘‘but instead to support those households that collectively need to spend a large amount on medicines each calendar year’’.

‘‘The government regularly reviews the threshold levels to make sure they are set appropriately,’’ he said.