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Study maps the prescription of antidepressants

4 September 2008

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A possible disparity in the provision of NHS care is being looked at after a study showed GPs prescribe lower volumes of antidepressants in areas with more Black or South Asian people.

Researchers from King’s College London set out to explore the relationship between physical illness, social deprivation, ethnicity, practice characteristics and the volume of antidepressants prescribed in primary care.

They used data derived from the Quality and Outcomes Framework, a system established in 2004 which gives financial incentives to GPs for achieving certain performance targets.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, reveals that higher volumes of antidepressants are prescribed by general practices in economically deprived areas, and by practices serving areas with a high prevalence of chronic illness.

Analysis showed that the greatest predictors of the volume of antidepressants prescribed were social deprivation, the prevalence of chronic illness (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and epilepsy) and ethnic density.

Overall, socioeconomic status, ethnic density, asthma, COPD and epilepsy explained 44% of the variance in the volume of antidepressants prescribed.

The researchers claim that more antidepressants are prescribed in socioeconomically deprived areas because of higher levels of depression in these areas.

Chronic illness is also associated with higher rates of depression, which may account for the increased volumes of prescriptions in practices with a higher prevalence of these illnesses.

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British Journal of Psychiatry