10% suicide reduction drive will be hit by Lifeline cuts

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The boss of the charity, which provides the Lifeline service in Northern Ireland, says with 268 people in Northern Ireland losing their lives to suicide last year, it’s time to adopt international best practice to help us move towards the World Health Organisation 10 per cent suicide rate reduction target by 2020, not cut vital support channels.

Fergus Cumiskey, Chief Executive of Contact NI, which provides the Lifeline service made the comments at an Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPHI) conference, as it emerged the critical suicide prevention service was being cut back.

“Last year, 268 people in Northern Ireland lost their lives to suicide,” said Mr Cumiskey.

“Suicide prevention is much more likely when health practitioners are supported to deliver competent, caring and confident suicide-safe care,” he said.

He pointed to the “Zero Suicide Mindset,” a concept championed across the Netherlands, which was the topic of a paper presented by Contact NI

It is based on the understanding that suicide is preventable, and sets the ambitious target of aiming for zero deaths through better screening, more support for low to moderate risk and routine safety planning with families and loved ones.

“Making use of proven international models of best practice can help Northern Ireland move towards the World Health Organisation 10 per cent suicide rate reduction target by 2020,” said Mr Cumiskey.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin said cuts to Lifeline will lead to a fragmentation of services.

She said: “We have met Lifeline to discuss their concerns about the proposed changes to the service and the impact it could have on vulnerable people. These changes will fragment the service Lifeline offers and shift its focus to high risk callers which would have a negative knock-on effect on callers who are regarded as being at low or moderate risk.

“This organisation provides an excellent service, including follow up contacts for a range of callers and has literally saved the lives of many people. Research has shown that the majority of people who take their own lives have experienced mental health difficulties so the heath service should be investing in services instead of cutting them.

“I will be meeting the Public Health Agency next week to discuss this and other concerns around addiction and substance misuse. In order to improve all these services and deliver a first class health system that people deserve we need to see the health minister back at his desk every day, working to tackle these problems.”