Network Rail, British Transport Police, Samaritans and many others are working together to try to prevent suicides on our railways. Such deaths are deeply traumatic for families and for the staff who deal with them.
These efforts are getting results. By working together, raising awareness and providing the right information and support, deaths by suicide on our railways have reduced by almost 20 per cent.
I am a supporter of the Zero Suicide Alliance, which makes the simple, compelling argument that one suicide is one too many. As we know from the experience on our railways, suicide is preventable not inevitable.
I am a member of Parliament’s Health Select Committee which held an inquiry into suicide prevention and made recommendations at the end of last year. The main thrust was the need for a national strategy for suicide prevention, supported by deliverable actions.
The vast majority – 95 per cent – of local authorities have suicide prevention plans, but there is no quality assurance or way of ensuring high standards.
Public Health England needs to develop some quality standards to assess local plans, and an implementation board to oversee the national strategy. We recommended that local Health Overview and Scrutiny Committees should look into local plans, to ensure plans are driven locally, not top-down.
Government’s funding for suicide prevention is welcome, of course. However, the Health select Committee was concerned that it wouldn’t be enough to fund the level of activity needed to reduce suicide by 10 per cent overall by 2021.
Suicide prevention on the railways, in our hospitals, in our communities can’t be achieved on the cheap. Investment is needed to save lives.
Lots of people and organisations need to be involved and they need to work together in the same common cause.
For instance, we know that when people are discharged from inpatient care, they are at increased risk of suicide. We know this because hospitals, coroners and others have been encouraged to share the data so that researchers can uncover the key risk factors. That, in turn, allows people to be supported through care plans that reach out from the hospital and into the community, involving lots of organisations.
Of course, even the most joined-up, evidence-based approach requires enough trained mental health staff.
People who self-harm are often at risk of suicide. So the Health select Committee was clear in its recommendations that everyone going to A&E with self-harm must have a psychosocial assessment and a safety plan.
The committee also recognised the need for high quality support for all those bereaved by suicide with every local authority plan recognising their needs.
The media has a crucial role in preventing suicide too, by making sure that its reporting does not encourage or facilitate copycat suicides by, for instance, going into detail about methods. The Samaritans has produced Guidelines for the Responsible Reporting of Suicide and these should be widely distributed.
Social media companies also have a responsibility to remove harmful content and enforce a strict standard on material likely to encourage suicidal thoughts.
The health select committee will not let the issue drop and will hold another inquiry to check on progress towards the government’s target.
The suicide prevention campaign by Network Rail and the rest of the rail industry shows what can be done with focussed effort, joined-up working, investment, and, crucially, involving campaigners and families. It was a privilege to speak at their campaign event in Parliament this week and to support their #SmallTalkSavesLives campaign. You can watch the video here.
Progress is possible. Suicide can be prevented. Together, we can save lives.