Prescription anti-depressants play a vital role in the treatment of mental health conditions, says College Chair

Responding to a BBC Panorama investigation into the prescription of anti-depressants, Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs said the following. 

"When prescribed appropriately, evidence shows that antidepressants can be an effective treatment for many patients suffering from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Wherever possible, however, we don’t want patients to have to rely on medication long term, and most patients don’t want that either.

"GPs are highly-trained to have frank and sensitive conversations with our patients, outlining the benefits and risks of antidepressants and other treatment options. They will always consider the various factors potentially impacting on an individual patient’s health. Prescribing and de-prescribing are included in the GP curriculum, which all trainees must demonstrate competence of in order to practise independently as a GP in the UK.

"GPs take an evidenced-based approach to prescribing, monitoring, and de-prescribing medication, including antidepressants, for mental health conditions. We will strive to consider new clinical guidance as it is published, to make sure we provide patients with the most appropriate care, based on the latest clinical research.

"Once a prescription has been made, follow-up appointments with patients will be arranged. These assess whether their symptoms have improved, and what additional support they may need. If it is appropriate for patients to continue with antidepressants, we will schedule ongoing medication reviews. These explore whether there are opportunities to reduce dosages, or stop taking medication altogether.

"If a patient wants to stop taking antidepressants or reduce their dose, it is important that they speak to their GP, or prescribing clinician, in the first instance. They should not simply stop taking their medication. This could be very uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous, due to withdrawal effects.

"Ultimately, ensuring patients receive the best possible mental health care is a priority for GPs. But it is increasingly difficult to offer patients the time they need within the constraints of a standard 10-minute consultation. If they can, many practices will offer longer appointments for mental health patients. But amidst intense workload and workforce pressures, offering longer appointments means offering fewer, and patients already report waiting too long to access care. This must urgently be addressed.

“We do also want to see improved access to alternative options to medication therapy at a community level. Talking therapies and CBT have been shown to have benefit for some patients with mental health conditions. But access is often patchy and slow across the country.”

Further information

RCGP Press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.