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The national suicide prevention strategy

The national suicide prevention strategy, Preventing Suicide in England: A cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives, was first published in 2012. Its key aims are to reduce the suicide rate in the general population in England and better support those bereaved or affected by suicide.

It was updated in 2017 to including tackling self-harm as an issue in its own right. To support the strategy, the NHS asked all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to deliver local multi-agency suicide prevention plans.

The strategy included a commitment to reduce the rate of suicides in England by 10% by 2020/21 (compared to 2015 levels).

Cross-Government action

The Cross-Government suicide prevention workplan (January 2019) commits every area of Government to taking action on suicide. It set out clear deliverables and timescales against which key commitments in the Suicide Prevention Strategy will be monitored.

£57 million in funding has been allocated for suicide prevention work up to 2023/24. The aim is to support local suicide prevention plans in all areas of the country and to establish suicide bereavement support services.

The fifth progress report on implementation of the national strategy (March 2021) set out additional Government support and funding for suicide prevention to address pressures caused by the pandemic. This included £5 million to support suicide prevention work by voluntary and community sector organisations in 2021/22. The report noted that, although full data is not yet available, early indications don’t suggest a rise in the number of suicides when comparing pre- and post-lockdown figures for January to August 2020.

Suicide rates

Section 1 of this paper provides a statistical overview of suicide rates throughout the UK over time, using the latest data published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in September 2019.

The data shows in 2019 in England and Wales there were 5,691 deaths where the cause was identified as suicide. This equates to 11.0 deaths per 100,000 population and represented a significant increase on previous years. However, it is lower than rates recorded in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Covid-19 pandemic has rendered measuring progress towards the 10% reduction target “very difficult” as pre-pandemic data “is no longer comparable.”

Suicide prevention in different policy areas

This paper covers the following policy areas:

  • Health services – including details of suicide prevention measures and mental health support in the NHS Long Term Plan (January 2019) and other NHS England reports. It covers local suicide prevention plans and NHS support for high risk groups.
  • Education – this section covers suicide prevention measures taken by educational institutions, including schools and the mental health services they provide, as well as further and higher education institutions. These bodies have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to support their students, including those with mental illness conditions.
  • Employment – this section outlines policies designed to keep people who suffer from mental health problems in work, including implementation of a Government strategy for support for people with health conditions in the workplace called ‘Improving Lives’, as well as a consultation on proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss.
  • Social security – this section outlines support for benefit claimants with mental health problems, training and guidance for DWP staff, the risks in Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independent Payment (PIP) assessments, and concerns about the impact of conditionality and sanctions on people with mental health conditions.
  • Transport – this section details suicide prevention measures for railways and roads undertaken by the British Transport Police (BTP) and the Department of Transport, as well as suicide prevention strategies developed by Samaritans, BTP, Network Rail, Highways England, and other parts of the transport sector.
  • Prisons – this section outlines prison service policy and health services for prisoners, Government policy to prevent suicide in prisons, and concerns about the levels of self-harm and suicides in prisons.
  • Media – this section outlines issues connected to the reporting of suicide and the role of the internet and social media.
  • Armed forces – this section provides information on suicide in the UK regular armed forces, the Ministry of Defence Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy (July 2017) and concerns about suicide amongst veterans.
  • Coroners’ conclusions – this section explains how the civil standard of proof – ie “on the balance of probabilities” – applies for suicide conclusions, rather than the higher threshold applied by the criminal courts – ie proof “beyond all reasonable doubt”.

The latest suicide prevention plans for the devolved nations

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