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UEL data analysists create ground-breaking map of schizophrenia prescriptions across England

Research by Professor Allan Brimicombe and Pat Mungroo receives nationwide media coverage

A statistical analysis by University of East London researchers has revealed that North Kesteven, near Lincoln, has the highest rate of GP prescriptions for schizophrenia and similar psychotic illnesses in England – more than double the national average.

The pioneering analysis was carried out by Professor Allan Brimicombe, head of the Centre for Geo-Studies at the University of East London (UEL), and Pat Mungroo, a senior fellow of the centre, who has spent 30 years working and researching in mental health.

Professor Brimicombe is a world-leading expert in big data and was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to lead the research and publication of the London 2012 Olympic Games Impact Study.

The researchers examined schizophrenia and psychosis within GP prescriptions for mental illness by local authority. North Kesteven came out top at 39 prescriptions per thousand of the population.

It was closely followed by Coventry (35) and Rochdale and Cambridge (both 34).

Also in the top ten were Hastings and Manchester (both 33), Walsall and Kingston upon Hull (both 32), Wigan (31) and Liverpool (30).

The research findings received widespread coverage in the media, including BBC News online, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Bristol, BBC Coventry and BBC York.

The average number of GP prescriptions for schizophrenia is 19 per thousand of population per year.

The data for the map (pictured above) came from 120 million GP prescription data records collected by the NHS in anonymised form. The GP prescriptions for mental illnesses were grouped by local authorities and districts for further analysis.

Nationally, mental health prescriptions represent about ten per cent of all GP prescriptions at a cost of nearly £80 million a month out of a total of £710 million per month for all GP prescriptions.

The researchers’ analysis also revealed that the lowest rate of schizophrenia GP prescriptions was in East Dorset, at just nine – half the average for England.

York, Tewkesbury, and South Gloucestershire each showed ten per thousand population, while Wokingham, Hambleton, North Dorset, Blaby, South Northamptonshire, Epsom and Ewell all recorded 11 per thousand.

The map raises important questions about how schizophrenia patients are being cared for in the community and why some areas in England have much more than others – the answers to which will require further detailed study.

“The pattern is not uniformly spread across the country, pointing broadly to environmental causes, including alcohol and drug abuse as exerting greater influence on the outcome,” said Professor Brimicombe. 

The UEL researchers also produced a second map showing prescription changes over five years. 

The Isles of Scilly showed the greatest increase in GP prescriptions per thousand population for schizophrenia and similar psychoses over the five-year period to September 2016 – up a huge 29 per cent per year. 

Some areas showed a decrease in prescriptions, with the greatest decline in Corby (five per cent decrease), Hastings (four per cent) and Havant (three per cent).

The average rate of change in England was a three per cent increase.

Comparing change between two different years required analysing 240 million GP prescription records. Data for the 12 months from October 2015 to September 2016 was used, and then compared with the 12 months from October 2010 to September 2011.

Professor Brimicombe said, “The pattern is very striking, with clusters of above-average increases in East Anglia and other rural areas. 

“These changes do not have a strong association with lifestyle types, so it’s more likely to be due to differences in policies and practices in the way mental health services are commissioned across the country.

“This is resulting in growth or decline in the numbers of patients living and being treated in the community.”

The causes of schizophrenia and similar psychotic illnesses are not precisely known. They may be due to a genetic predisposition, environmental factors such as stress, family dynamics and changes in lifestyle, alcohol or drugs abuse, or a combination of all of these.