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More prescriptions were issued last year, stats show

Rise ‘not automatically a bad thing,’ says RCGP

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 29 March 2019

The number of prescription items dispensed last year increased, new analysis shows.

Prescription Cost Analysis (PCA) — England, 2018, was published this week, by NHS Digital, revealing that an extra 2.9 million items were dispensed in 2018, compared to 2017. Some 1.1 billion prescription items were dispensed in the community in total, an increase of 0.3%.


The cost of prescriptions dispensed in the community in 2018 was £8.8 billion, a decrease of 3.7% (£336.6 million) from £9.2 billion in 2017.

Responding to the new prescription data, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), said: "Prescribing is a core skill for GPs, and we will only prescribe medication to a patient after a full and frank discussion with them, considering their unique circumstances, and if we genuinely believe they will be of benefit to their patient.”

Commenting on an increase in the number of Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants dispensed, Professor Stokes-Lampard continued: “Antidepressants are no different, and 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.

"Regardless of the reasons why someone might seek treatment for mental health conditions, GPs will take into account the physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on their health, as well as clinical guidelines, when formulating a diagnosis and treatment plan.

"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 [cognitive behavioural therapy] and talking therapies, but unfortunately access to these important services in the community is patchy across the country.

"NHS England's GP Forward View, which fed into the NHS Long Term Plan, pledged for every GP practice to have access to one of 3,000 new mental health therapists. We need this, as well as other promises made in the NHS Long Term Plan, to be delivered as a matter of urgency, so that we can continue to provide the best possible mental health care to our patients.”

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