A Novel Ontological Approach to Estimate Inequalities and Underuse of Social Prescriptions for Mental Health in Primary Care in England
Jani A., Liyanage H., Okusi C., Sherlock J., Hoang U., McGagh D., Williams J., Ferreira F., Yonova I., de Lusignan S.
Mental health conditions are a significant contributor to morbidity and mortality and cost an estimated £1.6 trillion per year globally. The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns have contributed to increases in common mental health problems (CMHP) like depression. Bodies in the UK recommend the use of non-medical interventions like social prescriptions to support individuals suffering from CMHP. In 2019, NHS-England committed to support the use of social prescribing across England. Despite this commitment, the proportion of eligible individuals with a CMHP that actually receive a social prescription remains unknown. To overcome this knowledge gap, a novel ontological approach was used to estimate the proportion of individuals with a CMHP that received a social prescription, disaggregated by different attributes (region, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sex, age) across a four-year period from 2017–2020. We discovered two general trends. First, there was a 1.4-fold increase in the presentation of individuals, across all attributes, to primary care with a CMHP across the four-year period analysed. There was also marked variation in the presentation to primary care with a CMHP based on different attributes (2020 variation figures - regions: 2.8-fold; ethnicity: 1.8-fold; socio-economic status: 1.4-fold; sex: 1.7-fold; age: 3.9-fold). Second, despite an increase in the use of social prescribing for mental health, there was still substantial underuse of it across all attributes in England (the highest percentage seen across all attributes in 2020 was 14%). The general trends revealed through our analyses provide valuable insights that can help to inform both policy and practice to address variation, health inequalities as well as to proactively design and implement appropriate services.