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Action promised on over-prescribing psychotropic drugs

15 July 2015

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NHS England has promised “rapid and sustained action” to tackle the over-prescribing of psychotropic drugs to people with learning disabilities, after three separate reports highlighted the need for change.

The reports from the Care Quality Commission, Public Health England and NHS Improving Quality found that 35,000 adults with a learning disability are being prescribed an antipsychotic, an antidepressant or both without appropriate clinical justification.

Medicines associated with mental illness are prescribed at a much higher rate for people with learning disabilities than the general population, often used for long periods without adequate review, and there is poor communication with parents and carers, and between different healthcare providers, the reports found.

Dominic Slowie, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Learning Disabilities, said: “This is a historic problem, but one that nobody knew the true scale of; that’s why we worked with patients, carers and professionals to get to the bottom of the issues once and for all.

“These medicines can be helpful when used appropriately and kept under review, but the prevalence and the lack of review or challenge that these reports have highlighted is completely unacceptable, and we are determined to take action to protect this group of patients from over-medication.”

Doctors should expect individuals and their loved ones who are concerned with a current prescription to consult them as soon as possible, rather than to stop taking medication immediately, in line with NHS England guidance.

Gyles Glover, co-director of the learning disabilities team in Public Health England said: “Services are overstretched and care is demanding, so we understand how the use of these drugs can be considered normal or necessary.  However the report, which is the first of its kind, suggests that psychiatric drugs are used more widely than is appropriate and this comes with risk. It is crucial that we build our evidence of what drugs are being used to manage behaviour and how often to support and guide a change in practice.”