Suicide prevention plan needs local and national leadership

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James Jopling, executive director for Scotland at Samaritans, expresses disappointment at the development of the national plan

13th March 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

We were quoted in the press last week as being ‘very disappointed’ in the publication from the Scottish Government entitled, Engagement Paper on Themes and draft Actions for possible inclusion in the Scottish Government’s new Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

If you’re pushed for time and the next 450 words are just too much to stick with, then let that title of the paper be enough to summarise our concerns about the approach the government seem to have taken on this issue. Tentative.

Rightly, we should recognise the progress that has been made in addressing the suicide rate in Scotland since 2002.  But that progress halted with a rise in suicides in 2016.  And that progress needs to be marked against the fact that the suicide rate is still higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK.

James Jopling

James Jopling

Late last year we worked closely with people directly affected by suicide to hear from them what would be most important to address in the next action plan. We did this with the Health and Social Care Academy, NHS Health Scotland and with support from the Scottish Government themselves. That made it all the more disappointing that the themes addressed in the subsequent government paper – of which there are just four – do not do justice to the powerful and consistent calls to action made by those who sadly know only too well the impact that suicide can have.

Whilst we would not necessarily have expected the report we helped produce to be wholly reproduced in the government publication, the mismatch was compounded by the lack not only of any timescales indicated for delivery of the proposed actions but any reallocation or indication of any additional resources being applied to this critical area of work.

It’s worth noting that within the last year, the Westminster government and the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, not often lauded for his work by the third sector – have made a three-year commitment to spend new money - namely £25m on local suicide prevention activity from a nationally allocated pot. And more recently he’s demanded a new requirement that all NHS mental health organisations should draw up detailed plans to achieve zero suicides, starting with those in inpatient settings, meaning that the NHS in England will be the first country in the world to roll out zero suicide as a national ambition.

Whether these are the right commitments for Scotland or not, what we are so far lacking is a clear ambition and framework to address the impact of suicide in the next 10 years in Scotland. If the Scottish Government intends to have a more-wide ranging plan than they have shared to date in the four themes they have shared, why have we not seen it? If the ambition is limited to the establishment of two new working groups, the (potentially admirable) establishment of mandatory training for a range of professions and an ‘an online suicide prevention presence across Scotland’ then the two years and more in which 1500 lives have been lost to suicide have not been worth the wait.

We need local leadership and national ownership of the issue of suicide prevention. Because addressing suicide rests across a multitude of local and national government functions, from education to justice, health and social services. Without such leadership, direction and focus we risk slipping further behind our UK neighbours, seeing more people losing loved ones and feeling we simply did not do enough to stop that happening.