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Government calls on NHS to adopt ‘zero suicide’ pledge

The government wants the NHS to overhaul the way it deals with mental health, with Nick Clegg calling for the NHS to commit to a ‘zero suicide’ campaign.

The deputy prime minister wants every part of the NHS in England to sign up to eliminate suicides in an attempt to cut the death toll of nearly 4,700 people a year.

This ambition has already been adopted in some areas, with Mersey Care in Liverpool, as well as organisations in south-west England and the east of England regions all making the commitment.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg said: “Suicide is, and always has been, a massive taboo in our society. People are genuinely scared to talk about it, never mind intervene when they believe a loved one is at risk.

“That’s why I’m issuing a call to every part of the NHS to commit to a new ambition for zero suicides. We already know that this kind of approach can work in dramatically reducing suicides.

“This isn’t about blame. It is doing more in every area of our society to ensure that people don’t get to that point where they believe taking their own life is their only option.”

The ‘zero suicide’ scheme is modelled on a mental health programme that proved successful in Detroit, USA, where the suicide rate among patients in the scheme fell by 75% within four years.

According to the government the ‘zero suicide’ ambition is about “changing how people in NHS care are treated, so that they are not forgotten when they move or leave the service they have been in”.

The plan involves close collaboration with GPs, other specialist providers, commissioners, public health experts and others.

The scheme would work differently from area to area but some examples can be found in the three that have already started.

The Mersey Care programme in Liverpool pledges to eliminate suicide by 2017 to 2018. It plans to do this with improved training for staff, focusing on the clinical skills needed to work with patients and their families to develop a “safety plan” – a personalised care plan with clear ways to get help 24/7.

The organisation will also work with other providers and stakeholders to share best practice – including CALM, Samaritans and the Cheshire and Merseyside Reduction Partnership.

It will also create a dedicated Safe from Suicide team that will provide advice, support, assessment and monitoring to those in need.

Meanwhile the plan in the south-west of England includes working closely with A&Es to better identify and support people who present with suicidal thoughts or attempts. They will also look at ways of providing better mental health support for people once they’ve been discharged, regardless of which NHS service they’ve been in contact with.

High risk groups, such as middle aged men, will be targeted with tailored support and the organisations will work with other agencies, such as the police and transport services, to identify “hot-zones” – areas where higher than average numbers of suicides occur – and understand the reasons behind these figures.

The East of England project is across four pilot areas that will provide training to give police, paramedics, midwives and GPs greater confidence in talking to people who are in distress and help provide the care needed to keep them safe.

They will also work to remove the means of suicide in local communities, for example erecting barriers at a ‘hot-spot’ at a shopping centre.

A new website will be set up (led by the charity MIND) to help educate communities in Cambridge and Peterborough and raise awareness about suicide. This is now being rolled out in other locations across the region as well.

Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the Mental Health Network welcomed the political commitment and attention mental health is receiving.

He said: “The Liberal Democrats are rightly focussing on the ground-breaking work NHS funded providers are doing to reduce harm. There can be no more important goal than reducing, and in time eliminating, avoidable deaths. The NHS Confederation 2015 Challenge to the new government in May is that they give the same priority to reducing harm in mental health as they have in physical healthcare."

The Royal College of Nursing also welcomed the focus on mental health. Dr Peter Carter chief executive & general secretary of the RCN said: “People who have experienced mental health problems and their loved ones know all too well how important it is to be able to access the right treatment at the moment when it is most needed. It is encouraging that this is now being recognised by policy makers and being placed at the centre of future plans.

“Nick Clegg is right to be ambitious in his plan to reduce to zero the number of people who take their own lives. Anyone touched by suicide will know that the ripples of this personal tragedy can be felt for many decades. There are effective strategies which can help and which should be more widely available.”

(Image source: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

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