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BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic affected how care was delivered to vulnerable patients, such as those with dementia or learning disability. OBJECTIVE: To explore whether this affected antipsychotic prescribing in at-risk populations. METHODS: With the approval of NHS England, we completed a retrospective cohort study, using the OpenSAFELY platform to explore primary care data of 59 million patients. We identified patients in five at-risk groups: autism, dementia, learning disability, serious mental illness and care home residents. We calculated the monthly prevalence of antipsychotic prescribing in these groups, as well as the incidence of new prescriptions in each month. FINDINGS: The average monthly rate of antipsychotic prescribing increased in dementia from 82.75 patients prescribed an antipsychotic per 1000 patients (95% CI 82.30 to 83.19) in January-March 2019 to 90.1 (95% CI 89.68 to 90.60) in October-December 2021 and from 154.61 (95% CI 153.79 to 155.43) to 166.95 (95% CI 166.23 to 167.67) in care homes. There were notable spikes in the rate of new prescriptions issued to patients with dementia and in care homes. In learning disability and autism groups, the rate of prescribing per 1000 decreased from 122.97 (95% CI 122.29 to 123.66) to 119.29 (95% CI 118.68 to 119.91) and from 54.91 (95% CI 54.52 to 55.29) to 51.04 (95% CI 50.74 to 51.35), respectively. CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS: We observed a spike in antipsychotic prescribing in the dementia and care home groups, which correlated with lockdowns and was likely due to prescribing of antipsychotics for palliative care. We observed gradual increases in antipsychotic use in dementia and care home patients and decreases in their use in patients with learning disability or autism.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ mental health

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