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Jeremy Hunt pledges £25m for NHS mental health services suicide prevention

The Health Secretary will announce plans to aim for a major reduction in mental health patients killing themselves

The NHS should strive for a “zero suicide” target throughout its mental health services in England, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will urge on Wednesday.

Setting out steps to end mental health patients killing themselves while under NHS care, Mr Hunt will call on providers to “leave no stone unturned” by ensuring safety is improved.

Due to speak at National Suicide Prevention Alliance conference in London, Mr Hunt will urge NHS Trusts to improve the timeliness of reporting suicides, strengthen observation policies and continue to address hazards in the physical environment, such as removing apparatus that would allow patients on psychiatric wards to take their own life.

People in contact with mental health services are at higher risk of suicide than the general population, accounting for 25% of all suicides in England, according to latest figures – in 2015, there were 81 preventable suicides of inpatients.

Local areas will be given access to a £25 million improvement fund from April 2018.

The new commitment, which will see NHS Trusts aim to reduce their suicide rate to zero, starting with a detailed plan to tackle inpatient deaths initially, builds on the ambition set out in 2015.

Mr Hunt is expected to say: “Despite the dedication and hard work of NHS staff still too many people receiving care in hospital die by suicide.

“The NHS has a proud record with one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe, but the hard truth is that suicide in NHS care is always a potential failure in a system set up to protect patients: possibly systemic, possibly avoidable, but never inevitable.

“With even one such incident bringing untold pain and heartache, we must strain every sinew to get to zero.”

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: “Three-quarters of people who kill themselves while on a psychiatric ward do so by hanging or strangulation. Yet many wards still have ligature points that should have been removed years ago.

“Only this week, one trust was found to still have ligature points in some of its units by the Care Quality Commission, despite being told to remove them three years ago.

“But it is not just removing means that will help prevent unnecessary deaths, the real problem is the lack of nurses and other hospital staff who have the skills and time to get to know patients who are at risk.

“All too often inpatient wards rely heavily on bank and agency staff, who may change regularly and with whom patients may struggle to develop relationships of trust.

“While we have around 6,000 nursing vacancies and morale amongst staff remains low due to the lack of resources and support from management, we will continue to see patients take their own lives in the very places where they are supposed to be safe.”

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