Suicide strategy being held up due to deadlock a ‘disgrace’ says MLA

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Confirmation that a new suicide prevention strategy continues to “gather dust in an empty minister’s office” is a “damning indictment” of the ongoing political impasse at Stormont, according to Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H. Durkan.

He was speaking after the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael McBride said on Friday that ‘Protect Life 2’ cannot be published without a Minister of Health being in place.

He said: “It is a damning indictment of politics here that a significant step towards tackling the scourge of suicide cannot be taken due to the deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

“An important suicide prevention strategy is gathering dust in an empty minister’s office while those parties are still squaring up to each other rather than stepping up for everyone else. The failure to implement this strategy is nothing short of disgraceful. This needs signed off and rolled out.”

Six months ago the ‘Journal’ reported how the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, had written to Mr. Durkan to state that work on ‘Protect Life 2’ was well-advanced but that “in the absence of a minister we are unable to finalise and publish the strategy”.

On Friday this position was reiterated by Dr. McBride, who said: “The new strategy - Protect Life 2 – has now been finalised but to date we have been unable to publish this without Ministerial endorsement. The Department is currently exploring all options to progress the strategy, and to enable further development of Protect Life services to support those most vulnerable in our society.”

Mr. McBride said it would be wrong to suggest non-publication was compromising suicide prevention efforts.

“Publication of the finalised Protect Life 2 strategy in its entirety would of course be beneficial; however, it would be totally wrong and misleading to suggest that support for those who need it is being compromised because of any delay in its publication.

“Not only would this be factually incorrect, it could send out a misleading and even potentially dangerous message to those in need. Help is available and much is being done to further develop services, despite pressures on resources across the health and social care system,” he said.

Mr. Durkan said the political deadlock needed to be broken in order to allow progress on the document.

“The strategy, like a government, is not going to wave a magic wand and let everyone live happily ever after but it should make a real difference and would save lives.”

Call the Lifeline helpline for free on 0808 808 8000.