GPs admit to over-prescribing

Article date: 30 March 2004

GPs are too ready to prescribe anti-depressants for stressed outpatients, a new report reveals today.

More than 80% openly admit to over-prescribing anti-depressantslike Prozac and Seroxat to their patients who are suffering fromconditions such as depression, anxiety and stress.

And they say they’re often forced to prescribe these drugsto patients because the appropriate psychological therapies orsocial care for mild to moderate mental health conditions aresimply not available.

Nearly three-quarters of GPs also say they prescribe moreanti-depressants now than they did five years ago, while a quarterof GPs told researchers that more widespread availability ofpsychological therapies is one of the most pressing priorities forthe NHS.

Norwich Union Healthcare commissioned independent medicalresearch specialists Dr Foster to conduct this research as itlaunches a national initiative to help people get the best supportfor mental health conditions. It has created an online informationguide – Services for a Healthy Mind – part of

Dr Doug Wright, of Norwich Union Healthcare says: "Ourinformation guide gives people the opportunity to educatethemselves on the mental health services available in their localarea, and beyond. By giving people the information they need theywill be better placed to choose the most suitable treatment withtheir GP."

The Norwich Union Healthcare study also reveals:

  • A third of people say they either know someone who is, or arethemselves suffering from, a mild or moderate mental healthcondition
  • 17% of those questioned say they’ve sought help oradvice from a healthcare professional for mild anxiety, depressionor stress
  • Men are more likely than women to keep quiet at work becausethey fear it will affect their career
  • While more women than men have sought help on mental healthissues like mild depression, panic attacks or anxiety, men aremore likely to have visited their GP regarding dependency onprescribed or illegal drugs, or alcoholism

Depression is a common condition, which will affect one in fivepeople at some stage in their life.* More than half of doctors saythat their patients often expect to get prescriptions foranti-depressants.

The study has been launched in the run up to National DepressionWeek (19 April- 25 April) – a campaign to raise awareness ofdepression and to fight the stigma around it - which willconcentrate on highlighting one of the most frightening aspects ofthe illness: its prevalence.

But according to Jim Thomson, chief executive of leading UKcharity Depression Alliance: "Anti-depressants are a valuable formof treatment for many people affected by depression, but thesemedicines work best in combination with other therapies –therapies that are largely unavailable in many areas, forcing GPsto prescribe in isolation of them. We want people to be aware ofthe many alternative types of treatment available, such asself-help and talking therapies, and we encourage them to look atall the options available to them to help combat theirillness."

The new online guide from Norwich Union Healthcare, compiled inconjunction with Dr Foster, offers the facility to search formental health service provision in the UK, either by postcode or byspecific speciality. It also provides a comprehensive glossary ofmental health conditions and the different therapies available aswell as series of practical resources such as a link to a 24 hourStress Counselling Helpline, and information and tips on copingwith stress.

The service is available online at of the website includes research into the provision ofservices provided by primary care organisations for adults withmild to moderate mental health and alcohol problems.


Media contacts: Jo Misson or CharlotteRuddlesdin at QBO Bell Pottinger on 020 7861 2424

Lorna Wiltshire at Norwich Union Press Office on 01904 723236 or07788 471849

Notes to editors:

Journalists wanting a limited free trial for Personal HealthManager, please visit log in as a first time user with the access code: 2C55E90A1.Once you have logged in, this code will allow you to trial PersonalHealth Manager as a registered user from now until 30 April 2004*.DO NOT PUBLISH THIS ACCESS CODE – IT IS FOR JOURNALIST USEONLY.

Norwich Union Healthcare commissioned Dr Foster to conductresearch amongst 250 plus practicing General Practitioners fromacross the UK in January 2004.

The Guide to Services for a Healthy Mind research wascommissioned by Norwich Union Healthcare and carried out by DrFoster in July 2003.

*1in 5 people at some stage in their life will be affected byDepression. Royal College of Psychiatrists 1992.

About Norwich Union Healthcare

  • Norwich Union Healthcare was founded in 1990 as the healthcarearm of Norwich Union and now provides a range of income protectionand private medical insurance products that cover over 750,000lives. It is one of the largest providers of income protection andprivate medical insurance in the UK.
  • Norwich Union Healthcare is a member of the General InsuranceStandards Council, the Association of British Insurers and theFinancial Ombudsman Service.
  • Norwich Union’s news releases and a selection of imagesare available from Aviva’s internet press centre
  • An ISDN facility is available for studio quality broadcast.Call the press office on 08703 66 68 68
  • For all life, pensions and equity release media enquiries call08703 66 68 73
  • For all other media enquiries call 08703 66 68 68

About Dr Foster

  • Dr Foster is the leading independent authority on healthcarequality in the UK. It publishes information which is accessible tothe general public and provides information analysis to theprofessional healthcare community.
  • An independent Ethics Committee with substantial powers toenforce editorial and research integrity oversees theorganisation.
  • Further information is available at

About Depression Alliance

  • Depression Alliance is the leading UK charity for people withdepression. It works to relieve and to prevent this treatablecondition by providing information, support and understanding tothose who are affected by it. It also campaigns to raise awarenessamongst the general public about the realities of depression.

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