The Public Health Agency has confirmed that arrangements have been made to ensure the Lifeline helpline continues to run past March despite attempts to secure a private sector operator failing.
Sinn Fein Foyle MP Elisha McCallion has welcomed confirmation that from April, the HSC (Health and Social Care) will now run the service as an interim measure once the current contract runs out at the end of March.
Mrs. McCallion has previously raised concerns over the future delivery of Lifeline, which is the north’s 24/7 crisis response helpline service for people who are experiencing distress or despair.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) commissions the Lifeline service and the current contract is due to end on March 31.
The PHA had offered a contract extension to the current provider, Contact (Northern Ireland), to continue to deliver this service from April 1, however, late last year Contact decided not to accept the offer.
A spokesperson for the PHA said: “In order to secure the continuity of the Lifeline Crisis Response Service after expiry of the current contract, the PHA took immediate steps to secure an interim provider from 1st April 2018.
“We pursued a range of procurement approaches available to us which would have enabled the selection of a suitable service provider with experience in the field of mental health and helpline provision. It has not been possible to appoint a non-statutory sector provider through this process.
“Instead, the PHA is able to confirm that all necessary arrangements are being made to transition the Lifeline service across to Health and Social Care for an interim period, with effect from April 1.
“Belfast Health and Social Care Trust will take the lead on behalf of the HSC in delivering this service.
Under this arrangement frontline staff who currently deliver the Lifeline service will transfer to Belfast Trust, and this regional service will continue to operate according to the same model with the same level of service.
“In delivering the Lifeline service, the PHA and the wider HSC will work to ensure that when anyone across Northern Ireland contacts Lifeline, they will receive the necessary level of support they require.
“The further development of the Lifeline service remains a key priority for the PHA in the fight against suicide and self-harm both now and in the future.
Sinn Féin MP for Foyle Elisha McCallion has welcomed clarity from the Public Health Agency on the future of the Lifeline service.
Elisha McCallion said: “Following engagements with local Lifeline representatives, I had sought this clarity to help provide reassurance to those who use the crisis service and the dedicated staff affected. Hopefully today’s news will help bring some comfort.
“We have been assured that there will be no disruption to the service and a dedicated project team will oversee the transition.
“Sinn Féin will continue to monitor any developments with this service and continue to engage with Lifeline.
“I would urge anyone in distress, please still call 080880 88000 to access Lifeline and remember that there is always hope.
“There is a whole range of supports and services in the community as well with great staff and volunteers willing to help. There is always someone there to listen and help.”