Antidepressant prescriptions in England rise again

ANTIDEPRESSANTS saw the greatest numeric rise in prescription items in England for the fourth successive year – increasing by 6 per cent in 2016.

This figure is reported in new statistics released by NHS Digital in its Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2006-2016 report. Antidepressants saw the greatest numeric rise of all British National Formulary (BNF) therapeutic areas for prescription items dispensed in the community. They increased by 3.7 million items (6 per cent) from 61.0 million to 64.7 million between 2015 and 2016. The number of antidepressant items dispensed has more than doubled in the last decade.

The report also found that the therapeutic area with the greatest number of prescription items dispensed in England in 2016 was for drugs primarily used to treat hypertension and heart failure. A total of 71.5 million items in this area were dispensed, having risen by 49.7 per cent from 2006.

Drugs used in diabetes cost the most in 2016 (for the tenth year running) at £984.2 million or £2.7 million per day. The cost for this therapeutic area increased by £47.6 million (5.1 per cent) from 2015 to 2016.

A total of 1,104.1 million prescription items were dispensed in 2016, an increase of 46.8 per cent (352.2 million) on the same figure a decade ago.

Responding to the new figures on antidepressant prescribing, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, said: “These figures look at medications dispensed in the community, not necessarily prescribed by GPs or other prescribers in primary care – but when GPs do prescribe antidepressants, it will have been after a full and frank discussion with the patient in front of them, based on their unique circumstances, and taking into account the physical, psychological and social factors potentially affecting their health.

“While at face value the rise might seem alarming, it could also be indicative of better identification and diagnosis of mental health conditions across healthcare – and reducing stigma associated with mental health in society, leading to more people with mental health conditions seeking medical assistance. Both would be positive steps forward as we strive for parity of esteem between physical and mental health.”

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