Concern at ‘treatment lottery’ of people who have been suicidal receiving mental health assessments

Lives are being put at risk because of a so-called treatment lottery in healthcare for people who have self-harmed or been suicidal, experts have warned.

All such patients should be given a specific assessment known to reduce repeated self-harm, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said, as well as a safety plan to lessen future risk.

Their call comes less than a week after former Love Island presenter Caroline Flack took her own life.

The college said every acute hospital should follow guidelines from NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), which state that a “comprehensive psychosocial assessment” should be carried out each time a person presents as having self-harmed.

The college, referring to a statistic from a 2017 health committee report on suicide prevention stating that just 60% of people were getting the assessments, said patients are being let down.

The assessments evaluate the social, psychological and motivational factors behind the person’s self-harming and assesses current suicidal intent, as well as the risk levels of repeat self-harm.

The college also urged that all frontline staff should be trained in writing safety plans – an agreed set of activities, strategies and contact organisations compiled by a patient together with a health professional designed to help them should they become suicidal.

Dr Huw Stone (pictured), chairman of the patient’s safety group at the college, said: “Self-harming patients are being let down because many of them are not receiving an assessment that is proven to dramatically reduce repeating self-harm.

“With hospital admissions for self-harming under-30s more than doubling in the last 10 years, there has never been a more important time to ensure patients are getting the care that they need.

“The college believes that every person who has self-harmed or is having suicidal thoughts should have a safety plan written by them with their health professional, as the plans are shown to lessen the risk of suicide.”

Simon Rose, from Derbyshire, said he had tried to take his own life multiple times, but that writing a safety plan had helped him in his recovery.

The 49-year-old said: “I didn’t write a safety plan after every attempt on my life, because they weren’t always offered. But on the occasions I did, I was better able to manage the bumps in the road which are always there when you’re recovering.

“Having a meaningful plan, one that is personal and tailored to the circumstances of the individual, is vital to reducing the risk of suicide.”

A spokesman for NHS England said: “While suicide rates have decreased over the last 10 years, reducing them even further is an NHS priority and in the past three years, as part of our Long Term Plan, we have invested to ensure that every general hospital now has expert mental health teams on hand for patients who have self-harmed.

“And as well as investing in 24/7 community crisis teams in every area to support people who are at risk of suicide, the NHS has recently launched an incentive scheme to make sure patients who have self-harmed receive comprehensive assessment, and a jointly produced care and safety plan after attending A&E.”

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