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Health Minister Swann pledges to prioritise new working group on suicide prevention

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Gary Lightbody

Gary Lightbody

Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor

Carl Frampton

Carl Frampton

Gary Lightbody

Health Minister Robin Swann has said he intends to hold a ministerial working group on suicide prevention "as soon as possible".

It comes as he responded to a letter signed by high-profile figures from the worlds of entertainment, sport, education and the voluntary sector calling on Mr Swann to declare a public emergency on suicide.

The letter, published in today's Belfast Telegraph, requests an immediate doubling of funding available for counselling and a guarantee that no one will wait more than 28 days for an appointment.

Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody, boxers Carl Frampton, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor, as well as footballers James McClean and Ryan McLaughlin, and the Ulster Rugby and Antrim Ladies Gaelic Football teams are among the signatories. It was produced by the human rights organisation Participation and the Practice of Rights group in Belfast as part of its #123GP campaign.

Mr Swann said addressing suicide is a "top priority" for the department and him "personally". He said: "Those signing the letter published today are right to highlight suicide as one of the biggest challenges facing our society and that urgent action is needed."

He added: "I also recognise that our region has one of the highest suicide rates in the UK and that is not an acceptable situation for us a society.

"We need to recognise the complex reasons why that is the case. This is why I am placing top priority on the full implementation of the Protect Life 2 Strategy.

"I am determined to put concrete actions in place that make a lasting impact. This will undoubtedly be an Executive priority because suicide is a societal issue which requires the commitment of all parts of Government. I therefore intend to convene a meeting of the cross-Departmental Ministerial Co-ordination Group on Suicide Prevention as soon as possible."

Mr Swann said his department has already set targets for 50% of frontline health and social care staff to be trained in suicide prevention, and several initiatives under the Protect Life 2 suicide prevention strategy were also being piloted.

This includes the Towards Zero Suicide initiative which has been introduced in adult mental health services across the Health and Social Care Trusts.

The Multi Agency Triage Team (MATT) is also currently operating in the Belfast and South Eastern Trust areas, helping "to ensure an individual receives the most appropriate care possible, when concerns about their mental wellbeing are reported" to the PSNI and Ambulance Service.

Belfast Telegraph