Will the Government end Suicide in Patients?

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted on Friday, October 7th, 2016

It was recently reported that Nick Clegg will set ambitious targets to end suicide among people suffering from mental health problems. The Deputy Prime Minister argued that every suicide is preventable if NHS Trusts provide better care for people suffering from depression and other serious illness. Our specialist clinical negligence lawyers have for some time attempted to raise awareness of the frequently seen poor standards of care from mental health care services in this country. In July 2014 we dedicated our regular "Medical Negligence Matters" newsletter to important mental health issues. Mr Clegg's pledge is therefore very welcome. We have tried on many occasions through our work and publications to highlight how many suicides are preventable and could have been avoided by mental health care organisations taking simple measures such as:-

  • Listening to and taking into account the concerns of patients’ families before both authorising discharge of a patient from hospital or when considering the possible admission of a patient to hospital;
  • Better communication with the patient’s family members during community care;
  • B etter communication with other treating organisations such as the patient’s GP.

Mr Clegg appears to agree with the above sentiment and has said that a “zero suicide” target can be met through simple measures such as keeping in touch with patients who have been discharged from mental health wards and creating a plan so that patients and their friends know who to contact if they are placing themselves in danger. Whilst knowing who to contact is one part of the jigsaw, it is imperative that there is a competent clinician who is able to address the concerns and who can take appropriate action to keep the patient safe rather than, for example, simply providing empty reassurance and kind words which in our experience is often the brick wall that is faced by many of our clients who have lost loved ones as a result of preventable suicide.

The Deputy Prime Minister’s plans have reported to have been inspired by a mental health programme in Detroit, US, where a “zero suicide” commitment resulted in no one in the care of State’s Depression Services taking their lives in two years. In contrast, in the UK some 4,700 people took their own lives in 2013, of which 78% were men.

The Deputy Prime Minister’s ambitious target to end suicide amongst people suffering from mental health problems is applaudable but should contain a complete review of all areas of mental health care in the UK rather than focusing on one or two parts of the jigsaw.

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