The NHS will put its most vulnerable patients on digital ‘suicide watch,’ as part of a national mission for “zero suicides” in hospitals.
The Health and Social Care Secretary will today outline new plans to improve patient monitoring, and ensure faster action when warning signs are detected, in a bid to tackle the leading cause of death in young men.
Jeremy Hunt said every mental health trust will be instructed to draw up detailed plans to achieve zero suicides, starting with those inpatient settings, as part of a £25m drive.
One in four suicides in England occurs among those in contact with mental health services.
Hospitals will today be told to strengthen suicide prevention measures by speeding up access to crisis care, improving staff training, and redesigning ward environments, to ensure the most vulnerable patients can be closely monitored.
Trusts will be told to learn from pilot schemes, such as one in Liverpool which has drawn up plans to offer tracking apps to patients at risk of suicide or self-harm. The measures being drawn up by Mersey Care NHS Foundation trust mean software will be used to monitor messages on social media, and the use of “keywords” associated with heightened risk as well as changes in behaviour, such as an increase in late night calls or web activity.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt called for a “cultural shift within mental health services” so that suicide was no longer seen as “an occupational hazard” or an “inevitability”.
“The sad truth is that too many people still take their own lives – around 16 people every single day. And I am concerned that a considerable number of these deaths – around 80 a year – happen to in-patients in the care of NHS mental health organisations,” he writes.
“That is why today I am announcing the next step in our ambition – a new requirement that all NHS mental health organisations should draw up detailed plans to achieve zero suicides, starting with those in inpatient settings, meaning that the NHS in England will be the first country in the world to roll out zero suicide as a national ambition.”
Trusts will be ordered to do far more to learn from suicides, publishing more transparent information in order to “leave no stone unturned” investigating cases which could have been prevented, and taking action to prevent future deaths.
All organisations are being asked to learn from pilot schemes in Merseyside, the East of England and the South West by improving suicide risk assessment, staff training and access to crisis care round the clock.
Mr Hunt said health professionals working with distressed patients had to make difficult judgement calls and that investigations should focus on learning from errors rather than apportioning blame.
But he warned: “The hard truth is that suicide can only ever be seen as a potential failure in care – possibly systemic, possibly avoidable, but never inevitable. There can be none of the grim fatalism that sometimes hangs over the treatment of people with serious mental illness.”