A report by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), published last week (December 10), found that 45.6 million antidepressant drugs were prescribed in the community between March and September this year. This represents a 4.8% increase from the 43.5m items prescribed in the same period last year.
The NHSBSA report also analysed the prescribing trends during the pandemic for central nervous system (CNS) stimulants and drugs used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); drugs for dementia; drugs used in psychosis and related disorders; and hypnotics and anxiolytics.
The number of CNS stimulants and ADHD drugs also increased in the first seven months of the pandemic to 1.04m, up 2.5% from the 1.01m items prescribed between March and September last year.
Prescriptions for drugs used to treat psychoses and related disorders similarly increased during the pandemic, to 7.5m. This was up 4% from the 7.25m items dispensed between March and September 2019.
Conversely, the number of hypnotic and anxiolytic drugs prescribed during the seven initial months of the pandemic decreased by 2% to 8.3m.
More than 76m antidepressants were dispensed in the community in 2019-20, up 23% on 2015-16 figures, according to an NHSBSA report published earlier this year (September 10).
Prescribing habits during the pandemic
Fewer drugs to treat dementia – 2.39m – were prescribed between March and September this year, down 1% compared to the same period last year.
This is despite an increase in the number of people being prescribed drugs to treat dementia, up by 1% to an average of 189,000 a month.
“This increase in the number of patients and decrease in prescribed items of drugs for dementia may be due to changes in prescribing habits to help protect patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, issuing prescriptions for longer lengths of time due to shielding measures,” according to the NHSBSA report.
The NHSBSA reported a peak of prescribing for CNS stimulants and ADHD drugs in March this year. However, after that prescribing levels for these items “remained lower” than during that month.
Supporting patients taking mental health medicines
Royal Pharmaceutical Society English pharmacy board chair Professor Claire Anderson told C+D today (December 15) that: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been an incredibly tough period for our communities. The impact on mental health has been profound and will have contributed to the rise in antidepressants and other medicines being prescribed.
“Pharmacists, as experts in medicines, have an important role to play in educating patients and giving them advice about what they are taking. If patients have any concerns or queries about their medicines, they should ask their local pharmacist for help,” she added.
Harpreet Chana, pharmacist and founder of the Mental Wealth coaching academy, told C+D today that the pharmacy team can support patients taking mental health medicines, especially because “if it’s a new prescription, they are likely to be anxious about having to take medication for their condition”.
“The best way for pharmacists to support patients who are taking medicines for mental health problems is just to ask them how they are and to really listen to the response.
“Most of the time people just want to be heard and having someone – especially in a caregiving position – actively listen to them can make a huge difference,” she said “It can be quite a struggle just to admit to themselves how bad things may have got, let alone seek help from their GP. Some kindness, compassion and reassurance that they will start to feel better soon, can really go a long way,” Ms Chana added.