Will toddlers on anti-psychotic drugs be the future for the new NHS?

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September 8, 2010 by sharonbrennan

Great article I read last week in the New York Times about the increasingly prevalent use of psychotic drugs to treat toddlers. Yes you read that right. An 18 month old was put on an anti-psychotic drug for throwing temper tantrums. And this isn’t an isolated case.

Admittedly, this is America, where the use of mental health drugs on children is much more widely practicised, and it’s easy to read this piece and say ‘Thank God that’s not our country’. BUT what really struck me in this piece, and which should act as a harbinger for the UK, is that those who are poorer in the US are more likely to be put straight onto a mental health drug rather than time be taken to provide talking therapies or more in-depth diagnoses.

And as our country’s politicians are considering changes to the NHS that could see the creation of a two-tier health system – one level of service for those who can pay and another level for those who cannot – such stories as this should act as both a case study and a warning.

Last December a US research team found that those kids on Medicaid, the health cover provided by the US state for families on low incomes, were four times more likely to be given antipsychotic medication than children who were privately insured. The reasons given by the researchers for this disparity were partly because Medicaid often pays less for counselling than private insurers do and because the waiting time to see a psychiatrist who accepted Medicaid patients was so long that medication felt like a better option.

Turning back to the UK and the great charity Rethink found that only 1 in 6 mental health patients received all the treatments recommended by NICE, with over half of people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder NOT receiving psychological therapies (such as talking to someone) as recommended.

It seems the UK already has a problem providing access to non-medication treatment for mental health issues, and I’d hate to see this worsen due to cost implications and waiting lists. But for a government that wishes to hand over funds to GPs and effectively privatise hospitals allowing them to seek income from the NHS or from private patients at a ratio they chose (creating long waiting lists for NHS patients and budget-conscious GPs who may feel compelled to prescribe the cheapest option) I just can’t see how those who are poorer in society will have a chance to choose their mental health treatments.

In the future, I’d hate to read about UK toddlers heavily medicated on anti-psychotic drugs but I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

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