90% of Scottish GPs give drugs for mental illness

Picture: Rob McDougall
Picture: Rob McDougall
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ALMOST nine out of ten doctors in Scotland say they have treated mental health problems with drugs even though they believed other therapies would have been more effective, research shows.

A survey of GPs across the UK found many were concerned about waiting times for “talking therapies” – psychological treatments which help patients talk through their problems and any reasons behind their mental 

In Scotland, 94 per cent of doctors questioned reported long waiting times for talking therapies – the highest for any region of the UK. It also revealed that 88 per cent of GPs said they had prescribed medication even when they thought the psychological therapies would be more effective.

The research, by insurance company Aviva, comes after figures continue to show rising rates of anti-depressants being prescribed in Scotland, with more than one in seven people taking the drugs.

Some 1.26 million drugs were dispensed in 1993-94, increasing to 5.01 million in 2011/12. The cost to the NHS in Scotland last year was £31.3 million.

A survey of 2,000 people around the UK also by Aviva found that 85 per cent were worried that any mental health illness they had, such as depression and anxiety, would deteriorate if they had to wait a long time for talking therapies such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) did not think politicians and the NHS were doing enough to tackle mental health problems. Half of patients (51 per cent) thought the maximum time to wait for therapy should be two to three weeks, while 29 per cent wanted to access the service within a week.

In reality, patients can wait many weeks or even months to get treatment. Many campaigners believe this has led to doctors resorting to their prescription pad when faced with patients needing treatment.

Mental health issues are a common problem, with 52 per cent of those questioned saying they had suffered a condition such as depression, stress or anxiety at some point in their lives.

The GPs questioned expressed concern about future access to talking treatments, with 35 per cent saying they did not think access would improve in the coming years. This was despite 77 per cent of doctors saying that mental health problems would continue to be the single biggest issue they would treat in the next year.

Dr Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva, said: “Clearly patients with mental health illnesses need access to the right treatment as quickly as possible to minimise the decline of their health and the impact it has on their lives.”

Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GPs Committee, said: “We do have concerns about the lack of counselling services available especially for low level mood disturbance.”