06 Jul 2022

Delays to updated suicide prevention strategy are 'unacceptable', says mental health professor

Siobhan O'Neill mental health professor (2)
Delays in implementing an updated suicide prevention strategy are “unacceptable”, an Ulster University Professor has told the Derry News. Comments made by Siobhan O’Neill, Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, come after the Department of Health (DOH) said the Protect Life 2 Strategy requires sign-off from a range of partners and is subject to budgetary constraints. Many families and individuals have been affected by suicide in the city and some of them have previously criticised delays in delivering the potentially life-saving strategy - a draft document for suicide prevention in the north of Ireland. Ms O’Neill commented: “It is unacceptable that the revised suicide prevention strategy, Protect Life 2, is not being implemented. There is an increasing body of evidence showing that suicide deaths are preventable. “The implementation of national strategies which are based on the latest evidence about what works in this area, can deliver reductions in the number of suicide deaths. It is however important to note that service providers and organisations on the ground are implementing changes in how they practice that will increase the level and quality of support available to those who are vulnerable. “Nonetheless suicide prevention activities need to be properly funded, and a joined up, strategic approach is the best way to address this complex and difficult problem. Services funded under the first Suicide Prevention Strategy (Protect Life 1) continue to receive funding, and thousands of staff and volunteers work tirelessly across NI to help people who are suicidal and save lives.” The Strategy, overseen by Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, identifies a number of areas for discrete focus to achieve its purpose of reducing inequalities and the suicide rate in the north of Ireland. In particular it aims to tackle repeat self-harm which is a major risk factor for suicide, to focus on those who have been bereaved by suicide and improve the initial response to the care and recovery of people experiencing suicidal behaviour. Its goal is to Protect Life through effective evidence-based intervention, treatment and support. It was put out for public consultation in September 2016 and has awaited ministerial sign-off since that consultation closed on November of the same year. ‘Review’ At a meeting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, permanent secretary at the department of health, Richard Pengelly, said he could take the decision to implement the strategy in the absence of a minister with the caveat that it is subject to financial restrictions. In a statement to the Derry News, a DOH spokesperson explained that Protect Life 2 is a cross departmental strategy and requires all partners to agree actions prior to publication. “That agreement is currently being sought. The Department is also ensuring actions can be delivered within relevant budgets. “In the absence of the Assembly, and of a Health Minister, the Department is continuing to review all health and social care policies/strategies on a case by case basis and is taking decisions, with legal advice, when it is in the public interest,” he added. “However, it must be clearly understood that despite the delay in publication of the new strategy, suicide prevention services continue to be supported and developed. Our priority is to continue to provide safe services which deliver the best possible outcomes for our citizens.”

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