NHS Business Services Authority releases annual statistics for medicines used in mental health

NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) has released its annual statistics for ‘Medicines used in Mental Health’ in England.

Published on 8 July 2021, the new report analyses the use of five groups of drugs and notes any increases or decreases in terms of prescribing.

The medicines release states that “mental health is a key area of the NHS Long Term Plan published in 2019” and allows for comparison and an overview of annual official statistics published between 2015/16 to 2020/21.

It explains that it aims to “describe the prescribing of medicines used to improve mental health in England that are subsequently dispensed in the community” but does not include data on medicines used in secondary care, prisons, or private prescribers. 

The publication covers everything from the total number of prescription items issued, through to the number of identified patients that have ‘received prescribing’, and demographic breakdowns of prescribing by age, sex and deprivation.

Drug types that feature include: antidepressants; hypnotics and anxiolytics; antipsychotics; central nervous system (CNS) stimulants and ADHD drugs; and drugs for dementia.

The latest publication accounts for the period that included the ‘implementation of lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic’, between March 2020 and March 2021. During this timeframe, the statistics show that there were 803,000 more antidepressant prescription items issued than expected ‘based on historical trends’.

However, the report states that this was not a ‘statistically significant increase for the period’ as, although usage increased, it was ‘already on an upwards trend before the pandemic’.

One statistically significant usage decrease during this time was that there were 363,000 fewer drugs issued for dementia prescription items than expected – more than expected ‘based on pre-pandemic trends’.

Key findings from 2020/21 include:

  • 79.4 million antidepressant drug items were prescribed to 7.87 million identified patients – the number of items issued and the number of patients receiving the drugs increased for the fifth consecutive year, but the rates of increase between 2019/20 and 2020/21 were less than in previous years.
  • 4.05 million drugs for dementia items were prescribed to 275,000 patients – a decrease from 2019/20.
  • Of the five drug groups analysed, four had a larger proportion of identified patients that were female, with the exception of CNS stimulants and drugs used for ADHD, which had almost three times as many males receiving prescribing than females.
  • All five groups of drugs were prescribed more often to patients living in more deprived areas of England, with the largest disparity for drugs used in psychoses and related disorders – here, 163% more patients received prescribing from practices in the most deprived areas of the country compared to the least deprived.
  • The most common age group to receive prescribing for three of the five drug groups was 50 to 54. Exceptions were CNS stimulants and drugs used for ADHD, for which the most ‘popular’ age group for use was 10 to 14, while drugs for dementia were most common from age 80 to 84.

The report runs through each drug type in a dedicated chapter, as well as providing further information on definitions and patient identification. The document also notes that clinical reasons for prescriptions were not captured. Due to this “these statistics may not give an accurate estimation of the population receiving treatment for a specific mental health condition”, and do also “not give an indication of the number of patients accessing other mental health services, such as therapy.”

The latest quarterly summary statistics from NHSBSA, which cover January to March 2021, are also now available, with one of the key findings that 20.2 million antidepressant drugs were prescribed during this time – a 1% decrease from the previous quarter.

To find out more about the summaries and access the reports in full, click here.