Suicide reduction or prevention? Contact NI conference in Belfast

In a section about suicide, the fourth edition of the Peace Monitoring Report contains the alarming statistics that:

Northern Ireland has now the highest incidence of suicide in the UK: in 2014
the rate was 16.5 suicides per 100,000, compared with 14.5 in Scotland, 10.3 in England and 9.2 in Wales, with 77 per cent of the victims male (Belfast Telegraph, 5 February 2016). It is much higher still among the socially excluded: the rate is three times as high in the quintile of most deprived areas as in the least deprived.

It’s against that backdrop that Contact NI’s Annual Suicide Prevention Conference runs in Belfast tomorrow taking the theme of ‘Speaking Truth to Power’.

Contact NI’s CEO Fergus Cumiskey often talks about the goal of ‘zero suicide’ rather than just reducing the rate of deaths.

Speaking ahead of the Thursday’s conference he explained that parents bereaved by suicide will participate in the afternoon session and reflect on care system errors in their loved one’s deaths.

“The conference will identify urgent patient safety improvements to avoid, trap and mitigate risk of patient suicide. Parents make the case for family inclusion in safety planning as the key to continuity of care at crisis point. The conference will call for the adoption of a zero suicide approach from all health and justice care systems.

“This means dropping denial and defensiveness and welcoming independent scrutiny to apply immediate learning from every suicide death, dedicated to reduce the suicide rate for every patient in our care. Bereaved families make the case for duty of candour legislation, early acknowledgement of clinical error, and clinical risk assessment training to urgently change health and justice system culture, regarding every suicide as preventable until the last moment of life.”

The chief executive of Mersey Care NHS Trust will speak at the conference. Mersey Care are one year into their five year Zero Suicide strategic policy and Dr Joe Rafferty will talk about the cultural transformation.

“What everyone involved in healthcare would like to achieve is an end to patient suicide and an end to people believing they have no other choice. Sharing from our most difficult learning is the only hope to achieve the zero suicide goal.”

joe-rafferty-ceo-merseycare-nhs-trust-2The consultation on the Department of Health’s Protect Life 2 suicide prevention strategy recently closed, with an emphasis on reducing the rate of suicide rather than eliminating it. The consultation notes

“… a number of NHS Trusts in England (eg Merseycare, South West England, and East of England) are developing Suicide Down to Zero approaches. It is intended that this strategy will learn from their progress and consider whether and how this approach can be developed regionally for the north of Ireland.”

In a Northern Ireland where government departments and bodies [Ed – and ex-combatants and state forces] often seem more keen on obfuscation and face-saving than data-sharing and truth-telling, switching to a zero suicide approach requiring honest sharing and learning seems a large step. But a very worthwhile one in a place which continues to lose lives with the long-lasting ripples of the conflict.

It’s still possible to book (£) to attend the conference. Suicide Prevention was the topic taken by the most recent edition of VIEW Magazine (online version).

Samaritans can be contacted for free on 116 123 – the same number works in both UK and Republican of Ireland

Contact’s Lifeline is open 24 hours a day on 0808 808 8000 – calls are free from UK landlines and mobiles.

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