Prescription items for antidepressants rose by almost 4 million last year to reach just under 46.7 million in England—a rise of 9% on 2010, reveal the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
This is the largest rise in items of any of the 200 sections listed within the British National Formulary.
The central nervous system chapter, which includes antidepressants and other sections relating to mental health and neurological conditions, also saw the biggest increase in items of any of the 15 chapters over the same period – with 172.4 million items dispensed, representing an 8.9 million item (5.4 per cent) rise on the previous year’s figures.
This is also the chapter showing the greatest cost (£1.954 million) and the greatest increase in cost (£80.6 million) in 2011.
There were also large rises for antiepileptic drugs, which totalled 15.5 million items in 2011, a rise of nearly 1.5 million items (10.6 per cent) on the previous year. Drugs for dementia also increased by 0.3 million items (18 per cent rise) to reach nearly 1.7 million.
But despite the increase in prescriptions, the total net ingredient cost to the NHS has fallen.
Prescriptions dispensed in the community last year totalled 961.5 million, a 34.9 million item (3.8 per cent) increase on the previous year. This equates to an average of 18.3 prescription items per head of the population, compared to 17.7 items in the previous year.
The total net ingredient cost of prescriptions dispensed in the community to the NHS was £8.8 billion, a 0.3 per cent fall on the previous year, while the average cost per head of the population fell to £167.22, compared to £169.13 in 2010.
HSCIC chief executive Tim Straughan said: “The rise in prescription items dispensed in England may well reflect the evolving demands of our ageing society, prescribing practises and the availability of more treatments. However while items are increasing, the net cost to the NHS is actually falling; which may be due to the steady increase in use of generic formulations of commonly prescribed drugs.”
Speaking on R4’s Today Programme this morning, Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, defended family doctors against accusations that they were overly keen on handing out “happy” pills.
She said that GPs were to be congratulated on taking mental health issues seriously, and said that it wasn’t simply a question of drugs or talking therapies: both were needed, she said.
She added that if these figures reflected prescribing for cholesterol or cancer drugs, no one would be in the least concerned. She feared that this reaction reflected some of the stigma that is still attached to mental health.