‘Suicide strategy being held up’

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The man running the health service in the absence of a devolved executive at Stormont has advised Foyle MLA Mark H. Durkan that a new strategy to attempt to reduce the suicide rate in the North is ready to go but needs to be signed off by an elected minister.

Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, made the revelation after being pressed by Mr. Durkan on the North’s anticipated ‘Protect Life 2’ suicide prevention strategy.

The draft strategy, which went out for public consultation a year-and-a-half ago, is aimed at “reducing the differential in the suicide rate between the most deprived areas and the least deprived areas” but remains in cold storage.

In a letter to the SDLP health spokesman, Mr. Pengelly explained how the strategy and associated action plans were at advanced stages but needed political mandate.

He stated that “work has continued in terms of maintaining existing suicide prevention services and in finalising the drafting of the ‘Protect Life 2’ strategy” before adding, “however, and as you will appreciate, in the absence of a minister we are unable to finalise and publish the strategy. In the meantime, preparations have been made for ensuring early implementation of the final strategy.”

Mr. Pengelly continued: “I have recently given approval to the Public Health Agency (PHA) to undertake proactive stakeholder engagement later this month on services expected to be procured under ‘Protect Life 2’.

“This will accelerate the procurement process once the strategy is finalised and allows for stakeholder views to be built into service specification design. Preparatory work is also underway on a number of new suicide prevention initiatives under the existing strategy. This includes the development of a street triage programme and pilot crisis de-escalation service.”

The Lifeline helpline is open 24 hours a day, every day. Free call on 0808 808 8000.