Factors contributing to suicide must be shared to help prevent future risk, peers hear

Coroners should be able to share data about the factors that contribute to suicide in order to prevent it in future, peers have heard.

The Bishop of St Albans appealed to ministers to recognise the importance of collecting data about suicide risk factors as the House of Lords began its scrutiny of the Coroners (Determination of Suicide) Bill.

The Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith’s private member’s bill would require coroners to record “relevant factors” in cases of suicide.

They would also be able to share this information with organisations “involved in the provision of care or support to vulnerable persons”.

Coroners are judicial officers who carry out inquests to establish the official narrative of how, when and where someone has died, but do not attribute blame or liability for death.

Inquests are carried out when there is a reasonable expectation that someone has not died of natural causes.

The Bishop, who has previously backed attempted reforms to record when gambling addiction contributes to suicide, said his Bill had been revised to address a range of “leading factors” for suicide in the UK.

The Rt Revd Dr Smith (pictured) said: “In 2020 there were 5,224 suicides in the UK. Aside from the age, gender, location, and method, we know virtually nothing about the causes, which limits our capability to devise strategies to reduce the number of suicides, something which the Government have committed themselves to do.

“This Bill in a modest way would enable the accurate recording of these risk factors across various coronial jurisdictions in a safe and secure manner without compromising the identity of the individual or the inquest process.”

He added there was “nearly always a reason” behind suicide, “known in coronial circles as the causative factor”.

The Bishop went on: “It is only by addressing these causative factors that we can have an effective suicide prevention strategy and this necessarily requires accurate knowledge of the main factors, the leading factors, driving suicides in the UK today.”

Justice minister Lord Bellamy said the Government would not support the Bill, telling peers: “We do not accept that the coronial system is the best way forward for collecting more data on the reason for suicide.”

He added there was already “in effect a system for publicising and drawing attention to difficult cases through the establishment of the system of the prevention of future death reports”.

Under this duty, coroners must tell the Government or local councils where they can take action to prevent future deaths.

The Bill will undergo further scrutiny by peers in the near future.

Mental health support can be found by calling the Samaritans free of charge at any time on 116 123 or by email at [email protected] or visit Samaritans.org.

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