A study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health used GP practice prescribing data to identify whether the Brexit vote of 23 June 2016 had a wider impact on the nation’s physical and mental health.
To capture the immediate aftermath of the referendum result, the researchers looked at GP prescribing patterns across all 326 voting areas in England for the month of July for every year between 2011-2016, as well as wider prescribing trends.
In the month after the referendum, it was found that the volume of antidepressants prescribed increased by 13.4% in comparison to other drug classes.
Wider analysis of data showed that the level of prescribed antidepressants increased in July every year before the referendum, as had prescriptions for iron, lipid, antigout, glucouse and insulin treatments.
However, in the July after the referendum, antidepressant prescriptions continued to rise while those for the other drugs fell.
‘Our results are open to different interpretations and should be treated with caution,’ the researchers wrote, adding that while the relative increase in antidepressant prescribing after the referendum ‘may be attributed to increased uncertainty’, other factors such as ‘distraction’ may have contributed to the decrease of prescribing in other drug classes.
They also highlighted that their findings do not ‘rule out an improvement in mood for others’.
The authors concluded: ‘Our study focused on an event that was unexpected, leading to an immediate shock. From a more general perspective, this paper shows that shocks nationally can affect health, and that uncertainty about, and expectations of, future effects can have an impact on health in the short term.
‘The findings of this study have several important implications for policy. First, policies supporting mental health should be intensified in periods of uncertainty. Second, our results suggest that the Brexit vote might have had consequences beyond changes in trade, immigration or the economy, influencing psychological well-being and leading to increased distress in the population.’
The NHS and Brexit
The UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, and the BMA has warned that a ‘no deal’ withdrawal could have ‘potentially catastrophic consequences for patients, the health workforce, services and the nation’s health’.
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The NHS has not received the attention it deserves in the Brexit negotiations.
'Some will say we are scaremongering by warning of the dangers of a "no deal" Brexit, but this is not the case. We aren’t shying away from being honest about what is at stake for health services if the UK and the EU fail to reach a deal. As experts in delivering health services and providing care for our patients, we have a duty to set out the consequences of leaving the EU with no future deal in place.'