Antidepressant prescribing continues to rise

PRESCRIPTIONS for antidepressants in England rose by 5 per cent in 2018, according to new figures published by NHS Digital.

A total of 70.9 million prescriptions for antidepressants were dispensed in 2018 for conditions such as depression and anxiety compared to 67.5 million in 2017. The figure includes all items issued by the NHS in England except those given out in hospitals or on private prescriptions.

That total is almost double the number dispensed in 2008 and similar rises have been seen in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Commenting on the report, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, said: "It's really important that increasing numbers of antidepressant prescriptions are not automatically seen as a bad thing, as research has shown they can be very effective drugs when used appropriately.

"It can be difficult to determine why prescribing rates fluctuate, these figures could indicate rising awareness of mental health conditions in society, and that more patients are feeling able to seek medical care for them – as well as demonstrating an improvement in the identification and diagnosis of mental health conditions.

"No doctor wants their patients to be reliant on medication – and most patients don't want this, either – so where possible we will consider alternative treatments, such as CBT and talking therapies, but unfortunately access to these important services in the community is patchy across the country."

The RCGP is calling on NHS England to make good on a pledge made in the GP Forward View for every practice to have access to one of 3,000 new mental health therapists.

NHS Digital reports that 1.1 billion prescription items overall were dispensed in the community in 2018, which is an increase of 0.3 per cent from 2017, but costs to the NHS fell by 3.7 per cent (£336.6 million). This has been attributed in part to cuts in prescribing low-value over-the-counter medicines since 2017.