Prescriptions for antidepressants in Norfolk rise to nearly 1.7m in a year

PUBLISHED: 08:20 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:21 02 October 2018

File photo of a GP writing out a prescription. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

File photo of a GP writing out a prescription. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

The number of prescriptions handed out for antidepressants in Norfolk has soared to nearly 1.7 million in a year.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs. Photo: Grainge Photography/RCGPProfessor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs. Photo: Grainge Photography/RCGP

New statistics show the number of prescriptions written for the tables has risen by 15pc - an extra 200,000 - in three years. The number jumped from 1,467,357 to 1,685,857 in that time.

The figures have prompted concerns that antidepressants are being prescribed too quickly by GPs because of long waiting lists for talking therapies.

But Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the trend should not be automatically seen as a bad thing and may indicate that “more patients feel able to disclose mental health problems”.

National standards say 75pc of people referred to services for common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety should start treatment within six weeks, while 95pc should be seen within four and a half months.

Huw Jones. Photo: Huw JonesHuw Jones. Photo: Huw Jones

While guidelines tells GPs that talking therapies should be the first option for people with depression, waiting lists can be more than a year long.

And it has been suggested that doctors feel they have little else to offer the patient sitting in front of them in distress, who needs help that day.

Prof Stokes-Lampard, said there was a “severe lack” of talking therapies in the community.

She said: “When GPs do prescribe antidepressants, it will have been after a full and frank discussion with the patients based on their unique circumstance.

Simon Jacobs, from Norwich. Photo: Simon JacobsSimon Jacobs, from Norwich. Photo: Simon Jacobs

“However, there is also the issue that the standard 10-minute GP consultation is increasingly inadequate to properly deliver care to patients with complex health needs.”

But Dr Bohdan Salomka, medical director at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), which provides the Wellbeing Service, said: “Waiting times for patients referred to the Norfolk and Waveney Wellbeing Service are within the standards set by the clinical commissioning groups which fund the service.”

For Huw Jones, a father-of-two from Norwich, the medication did not work. Mr Jones, who works at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, found he struggled with his mental health following the traumatic birth of his youngest son, who is now 10 months old but was born unresponsive.

He said: “For me, the side effects of the drugs actually depressed me.”

Social entrepreneur Robert AshtonSocial entrepreneur Robert Ashton

Mr Jones was prescribed citalopram four weeks ago and said at first he thought “it’s only a bit of nausea, I’ll put up with this”.

But he soon found the medication was also stopping him sleeping and causing him stomach problems, among other issues.

He said: “The problem with a lot of this - and my GP was very open with me on this - is it’s a damn sight simpler for them to prescribe drugs.”

Mr Jones said he was lucky enough to access talking therapies outside of the NHS, but he was concerned waiting times were stopping people getting help.

It was a view echoed by Robert Ashton, a trustee for Healthwatch Norfolk who started taking antidepressants after a cycling accident left him with a brain injury. He said although they had helped him he did think GPs were too quick to prescribe them.

He said: “For the GP who has nine or 10 minutes, it’s too easy. All should refer to cognitive behavioural therapy.”

After his accident Mr Ashton, 63, and from Wymondham, said: “I soon became depressed. I’d suffered from depression on and off for years before the accident but, following my injury, the strong suicidal urges were terrifying.”

Simon Jacobs, 28, from Norwich, said medication was a “life saver” but he had also struggled to access counselling.

In 2015 Mr Jacobs said pressures at work meant “getting out of bed became a struggle and I soon hated the thought of turning up to work, and I began to wonder whether it was all worth it.”

Mr Jacobs reluctantly booked a GP appointment where it was confirmed he was depressed.

He said: “At that moment I felt weak, like a failure, and that I couldn’t survive life on my own.”

He recognised the part therapy had to play, but said he had struggled to find free sessions around work and three years later he had not had any sessions.

But he said he now did not see himself stopping taking antidepressants. He added: “They say you can’t put a price on life, but that £17.60 a month prescription fee is worth every penny.”

Services for adults with anxiety and depression are provided in this region by Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, under the Wellbeing service.

Data from NHS Digital showed there were 4,500 referrals to the service from across the two counties in May this year, the most recent data available, alone. Plus 2,755 self referrals.

There were 3,400 waiting to be assessed but 115 patients had been waiting more than three months.

The majority of people (2925) who started treatment in May had been waiting fewer than 28 days and none waited more than three months.

But 35 people waited more than eight weeks.

Dr Salomka added: “We are currently working collaboratively with the 23 GP practices in the OneNorwich group to develop a clinical pathway for people with mental distress. An initial meeting will be held next week with sessions booked in November and December, and a joint GP / NSFT training day will take place in January.”

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