Health Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:41 pm on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 12:41 pm, 16th March 2017

I welcome the Health Committee’s report on suicide prevention and congratulate my hon. Friend and her Committee on their work on this very important issue. I join her in thanking those with lived experience who bravely contributed to the Committee’s work; the impact of their contribution cannot be overestimated.

Every death by suicide is a tragedy that has a devastating effect on families and communities, which is why the Government are committed to reducing the national suicide rate by 10% by 2020. We want all areas to learn lessons from organisations such as Mersey Care, with its zero suicide ambition. We were particularly grateful that the Committee published an interim report in December, as it allowed us to address many of its recommendations in our update of the national strategy. These included how we are driving local delivery, addressing stigma, improving suicide bereavement services and increasing awareness of the consensus statement for information sharing for people at risk of suicide. However, we do accept that we need to go further on implementing the cross-Government national suicide prevention strategy, which is why we published the updated strategy to strengthen delivery in key areas, including in implementation. It is also why we will continue to provide further updates.

The refreshed strategy now includes better targeting of high-risk groups and, for the first time, addresses self-harm as an issue in its own right, which is one of the most significant issues of suicide risk. We are working with the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group, delivery partners across Government, and other agencies and stakeholders to develop an improved implementation framework.

We are already making good progress in ensuring that all local areas have a suicide prevention plan in place by the end of the year. To date, 95% of local areas have a suicide prevention plan in place or in development. We will also work with local areas to assess the quality of those plans, building on guidance on good practice. We have run a series of suicide-prevention planning masterclasses carried out by Public Health England to improve that quality. We have also published guidance to local authorities in January on developing and providing suicide bereavement services as an important plank of the plan.

Furthermore, we have announced that we will publish a Green Paper this year on children and young people’s mental health and develop a national internet strategy, which will explore the impact of the internet and social media on suicide prevention and mental health. That will address some of the issues that my hon. Friend has raised about the media and suicide. Hon. Members will also know that we are committed to all A&Es having core liaison services by 2020. They have rightly raised the fact that the workforce will be essential in delivering that ambition, and we will imminently be publishing our mental health workforce strategy, the performance of which I am sure that the Select Committee will closely scrutinise. We will carefully consider all the recommendations made by the Committee in this report and respond to them in due course.

My hon. Friend has rightly raised the connection between mental health services and suicide prevention. Does she agree that we cannot think about suicide without considering the broader matter of mental health? Will she and the Committee join me in welcoming the wide range of measures set out by the Prime Minister in January, in addition to the five year forward view for mental health, with a focus on earlier intervention and prevention in mental health services, because those improvements will be essential if we are to make the progress on suicide prevention that all of us in this House want to see?