GPs call for more 'talk therapy' to curb pill use
Patients are being prescribed anti-depressants by GPs because of a lack of talking therapies, doctors warned yesterday.
Although anti-depressants are very effective, many patients with mental health issues would benefit from psychological counselling, the Oireachtas Health Committee was told.
However, Dr Mark Murphy and Dr John O'Brien, of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said: "Prescribing rates of anti-depressants reflect a lack of psychological therapies and a lack of social therapies and resources in society."
These include the impact of fragmented communities, isolation and austerity.
"In 2016, the State spent €40.07m on anti-depressant medications for GMS-eligible patients and €4.29m on the Drug Payment Scheme.
"In contrast, we spent €10m on counselling in primary care."
They also cautioned that delays in getting specialist hospital treatment can result in patients being given strong pain-killing medication.
The doctors' body is aware of the painkiller opiate crisis in the United States.
However, it pointed out that: "GPs are at the frontline and it is difficult when a patient is sitting in front of the GP, disabled with intractable pain, possibly waiting years for an orthopaedic or pain clinic appointment."
The most recent data suggests that while the prescribing of tranquillisers has stabilised, it is still higher than it should be.
On the other hand, the prescribing of 'Z' hypnotics or sleeping pills is now on the increase.
The family doctors pointed to the increase in workload for GPs at a time when their funding is cut.
"We work off a 40-year-old, out-dated contract.
"We have severe capacity restraints, with 6.2 GPs per 10,000 populations - the lowest in Europe - and an exodus of our GP graduates."
It is estimated that two out of every three consultations results in a prescription.
Prof Tom Fahey, head of the general practice in the Royal College of Surgeons, told the committee that a growing numbers of older patients are on more than one medicine.
Research shows that the number of over 65s who are on five medicines has risen to around 60pc.
Around one in five older people are taking 10 medicines as the prevalence of chronic diseases increases.