Mental health workers have been urged to commit to a “zero suicide” goal by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who is calling on trusts to introduce new measures that ensure no patient takes their own life.
Strategies to meet this goal could include continuing the contact between healthcare professionals and patients once they have been discharged from a ward, or providing information to friends and families about who to contact if they need help in the future, he said.
Speaking at an event at health charity the Kings Fund this morning, the deputy prime minister pointed to figures which show almost 4,700 people died by suicide in 2013 in England.
He challenged “every part of the NHS” to follow the lead of some trusts that had already introduced programmes which have demonstrated suicide is preventable.
”I’m issuing a call to every part of the NHS to commit to a new ambition for zero suicides of people in their care”
Mr Clegg pointed to one mental health programme by Mersey Care Trust which has established a dedicated team to develop personalised safety plans for patients.
These identify issues which can trigger patients’ negative thoughts, provide ways to deal with high-risk moments, and ensure friends and family know who to contact during a crisis.
The deputy prime minister said: “This isn’t about blame. It is about doing more in every area of our society to ensure that people don’t get to that point where they believe taking their life is their only option.
“This includes in our health system. That’s why today I’m issuing a call to every part of the NHS to commit to a new ambition for zero suicides of people in their care.”
The Royal College of Nursing has welcomed the announcement but called for more investment in mental health nurses.
RCN general secretary and chief executive Peter Carter said: “By investing in mental health nursing, the NHS can be a world leader in mental health and suicide prevention.
“It would be a tragedy if services were allowed to slip backwards due to a lack of investment just when the politicians are expressing enlightened views and laudable ambitions.”
Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which represents NHS mental health and learning disability service providers, 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.”
He added: “[Our 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.”