Call for GP protocol for suicidal patients

A doctor
A doctor

A local family has called for GP surgeries in the North to establish a protocol for dealing with patients who are feeling suicidal.

The family, which does not wish to be identified, said that GP surgeries and their administrative staff should have a set of guidelines which must be followed when someone is in crisis and contemplating suicide.

The family made the comment after it struggled to get assistance from a primary care provider for a family member who was feeling suicidal.

The family said that their relative was ‘lucky they had someone to push and fight to get them help. If someone was alone without any support in that situation God only knows what could happen’.

A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Board confirmed that there is no protocol in place for GP surgeries dealing with patients who report feeling suicidal.

“Looking after patients with mental health problems is a complex process. Written guidelines and protocols do not lend themselves well to this multifactorial decision making process.”

However, the HSCB said that the ‘importance of GPs having the skills to manage mental health problems is recognised’ as they are ‘the most frequently used source of professional support for someone in the community seeking assistance with emotional distress’.

They confirmed that ‘support for patients who contact their GP feeling suicidal may include getting the patient to talk on the phone with the GP or other healthcare professional, offering a face to face appointment, signposting or an urgent referral to other services such as the Community Mental Health Services.

“The appropriate support will be a decision for the practice team based on their knowledge of the patient and locally available services.”

The HSCB added that a range of primary care staff attended suicide prevention training in 2017/18 organised by the Public Health Agency under the Protect Life suicide prevention strategy.

If you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.