NHS Tayside (Mental Health Services)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I thank Anas Sarwar and the Labour Party for using the party’s debating time to bring this issue to Parliament this afternoon. I also thank Anas Sarwar for the measured tone that he struck at the top of the debate, which has been picked up by other speakers thus far.

This is not a debate about personalities on either the Government or the Opposition benches in the chamber; it is a debate that is very much steeped in human tragedy. I thank David Ramsay’s family and the other campaigners from the lost souls group who are with us today for their courage in bringing the issue to Parliament and for being here to support us in our deliberations on it this afternoon.

It says a lot about the state of the public policy response to suicide in this country that we need campaigns such as the lost souls group’s campaign—and, indeed, that this debate is being held in Opposition time. Self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide completion represent the very nexus of human crisis—the limit of endurance that affects all too many lives in Dundee and in the regions beyond it, where that crisis is met too often with silence and a void or gaps in service provision.

I pay tribute to Richard Leonard for his question to the First Minister last week. It was one of those pin-drop moments when every member in the chamber could not help but feel huge compassion for David Ramsay and his family. At the age of 50, David very sadly joined the ranks of the all too many young men in this country for whom suicide is the leading cause of death.

I wish to associate myself and those of us on the Liberal Democrat benches with Anas Sarwar’s call for the five tests to be met by the independent review into what happened in NHS Tayside, and I very much welcome the cabinet secretary’s positive response to that. On that basis, I can assure her of our support for the Government’s amendment tonight.

Confidence in that review is absolutely key, not only to the families represented here, but to everybody in the Tayside area. The review will need transparency if it is to enjoy that confidence and give reassurance to the families in the area who are affected by suicide. The independence of the review is critical, as is the public call for evidence, and it will be vital for the review to hear the stories and about the lived experiences of those families who are steeped in tragedy in order to learn from them and ensure that progress can be made in this critical area.

What happened in Dundee and Tayside is symptomatic of a wider problem and wider deficiencies in our country’s public policy response to suicide. Suicide has been trending down across the country—something of which we should all be justifiably proud—but we are seeing an uptick and resurgence, with an 8 per cent rise last year alone.

I have mentioned many times the concerns of those of us on the Liberal Democrat benches about the 18-month delay in the production of the suicide prevention strategy and the fact that the draft—now that it has been published—has been met with some derision from the sector. The Samaritans talked about the fact that the strategy lacks resources, timescales and ambition, and the Scottish Association for Mental Health, which delivered suicide prevention training in the Parliament this very week, said that without an understanding of what will be in the plan and the Government policy response, it cannot use the strategy to underpin its planning for such events.

I close by again thanking the lost souls group, and particularly David Ramsay’s family, for having the courage to come to the Parliament today and be part of the debate. If anything can come from that abject human tragedy, let it be positive action and concerted consensus across the chamber, to ensure that David leaves a lasting legacy.