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Antidepressants dispensed up almost a quarter in last five years

RPS: Pharmacists should be “at the forefront of mental health and wellbeing patient care”

More than 76 million antidepressants were dispensed in the community in 2019-20, up 23% on 2015-16 figures, NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) data has revealed.

The number of prescriptions for drugs used to treat dementia, psychoses and central nervous system (CNS) stimulants and drugs used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were also on the rise compared to five years ago, NHSBSA said.

The figures were published in NHSBSA’s annual report on medicines used in mental health, published yesterday (September 10). However, fewer hypnotics and anxiolytics were prescribed in 2019-20 compared to five years ago, at 14.6 million in 2019-20 compared with 15.9 million in 2015-16 – a drop of 8%.

“The low level of prescribing for barbiturates may reflect the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice)’s advice against the use of intermediate-acting barbiturates except in the treatment of severe intractable insomnia in patients already taking barbiturates,” NHSBSA said in the report.

The report analysed data on items prescribed in England and subsequently dispensed in the community in England, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

More patients using mental health medicines

Almost eight million patients “received at least one prescription item for antidepressant drugs in 2019-20 in England” a 14% increase since 2015-16.

The number of patients who were prescribed at least one item for CNS stimulants and drugs for ADHD rose by 44% in five years – from 106,000 in 2015-16 to 153,000 in 2019-20, according to the report.

COVID-19 and mental health

“The number of prescriptions for medicines used in mental health has fluctuated since March 2020, following lockdown restrictions being announced by the UK government on 23 March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.

More antidepressants were prescribed in March, April and June this year than the same months last year, according to the report –with an increase of 11%, 7% and 8% respectively.

“The pandemic has affected people with existing mental health conditions and created a whole new level of depression and distress in those previously unaffected,” Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley told C+D yesterday.

“Pharmacists are well placed to help people manage their mental health. They can help with early identification of issues, provide access to appropriate support and help with prescribed medicines. It is essential that pharmacists are at the forefront of mental health and wellbeing patient care,” she added.

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D yesterday that COVID-19 has “no doubt” had an impact on people’s mental health.

“This is why pharmacy should be at the centre of local healthcare and be enabled and supported to play a key role in managing areas such as long-term conditions and mental health,” she said.

Have you seen an increase in the number of antidepressants you dispensed in the past year?

Caroline Jones, Community pharmacist

The criteria for ‘diagnosing’ depression and anxiety is so broad and the threshold is very low - I’d suspect the majority of the population could fit into it if they went to the GP.


Caroline Jones, Community pharmacist

Even though CKS/NICE don’t recommend pharmacological treatment for ‘mild’’s probably much easier for GP (and patient) to issue/pop a pill?

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