Healthcare news

Suicide strategy delayed by Stormont impasse

Security guards lock the gates outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont
Michael McHugh, Press Association

Measures addressing the north's high suicide rate have been delayed by the impasse at Stormont, a health chief said.

The Protect Life 2 draft strategy is designed to stop people from taking their own lives, but there is no health minister to sign it off.

When she was health minister in 2016, Sinn Féin leader Michelle O'Neill launched a consultation on the proposed action which has not yet been implemented.

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That included tackling repeated self-harm which is a major risk factor for suicide; focusing on those who have been bereaved by suicide; and improving the initial response to the care and recovery of people experiencing suicidal behaviour.

North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon said: "I am really alarmed to know that there is a strategy to deal with suicide in Northern Ireland but that it has not gone ahead because we do not have a minister."

A recent court decision means civil servants are limited in the action they can take in the absence of a minister.

Lady Hermon added: "I would have thought that there could not be anybody who could object to anything to reduce the number of suicides in Northern Ireland."

According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, 297 people killed themselves in Northern Ireland in 2016.

The year before, the tally was even higher and health experts have blamed the legacy of the Troubles and levels of deprivation.

Dr Adrian Mairs, director of public health at the Public Health Agency (PHA), told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs at Westminster that they were taking pioneering steps to tackle the problem.

He linked the problem to a higher rate of mental ill-health than elsewhere in the UK, partly due to the Troubles legacy and ongoing violence in some areas, as well as greater levels of deprivation.

He said: "There is a wide range of reasons why we have a higher suicide rate in Northern Ireland.

"We do have a policy to reduce that, we have a lot of programmes and policies in place to provide information, education, training and learning to the statutory, voluntary and other sectors to identify suicidal ideation."

A register is used to identify those who have self-harmed and may be at greater risk of suicide.

The suicide rate is around 16 per 100,000, compared with 345 per 100,000 self-harming.

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