Chief Executive's Blog - Stamp out stigma






Friday, 11 September 2015

Zero Suicide

Yesterday was a significant moment in the recent history of Mersey Care NHS Trust when we launched our policy for zero suicide in our care. It was launched on World Suicide Prevention Day alongside the Champs Public Health Collaborative and is the culmination of months of hard work from many people, looking at data and analysis and formulating a plan which we believe can make a real difference to people in our care with suicidal thoughts. You can read our full policy here.

Mersey Care is fully supportive of the aims of World Suicide Prevention Day and the media coverage it received will help in raising awareness and educating people about suicide prevention. It is, though, only one day in the year, and we need to work hard for the other 364 days so we can make tangible progress.

Our launch formed two parts, starting with stakeholders in Warrington in the morning followed by a staff event in the afternoon at Aintree Racecourse. Both events were well attended and I sensed a real determination to reduce suicide in our care. The morning event included some fantastic presentations from Professor Louis Appleby, the Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manchester and Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group with the Department of Health, Dr David Fearnley, Mersey Care’s Medical Director, and an incredibly moving talk from Angela Samata, a member of the All Parliamentary Group on Suicide and Self Harm Prevention and presenter of the documentary ‘Life after Suicide’.

For those who have not seen this programme, it gives great insight into the impact of suicide on friends, family and loved ones and you can view it here. I was also delighted with the great cross-section of agencies present which suggests a desire across the community to make a real difference.

I also attended the staff event at Aintree, where there were presentations on Suicide Prevention Training, Post Incident Reviews and Safety Plans. Once again, I was delighted with the turn out and the commitment shown by our staff, although I sensed there were concerns about how our new zero suicide policy would affect already busy workloads. This policy has not been developed to add increased pressure to already hard-working staff, but by working smarter and changing the way we work, we believe we can make a real difference to preventing suicide. A lot of the discussion at Aintree concentrated on the need to get to zero blame as we head towards zero suicide. That culture of no blame is a priority. It is not the same as no responsibility and no accountability, which must of course exist to keep our services and patients safe, but it is about learning as an organisational principle and is very much about levelling up - not 'beating up.’ If we cannot talk openly about incidents and how we can better prevent them, we cannot learn and formulate better plans so we are better prepared next time.

Below is a diagram of the four key areas we believe can help us achieve zero suicide in our care. There are more detailed descriptions in the policy, but I thought it may be good for those who were unable to attend the event at Aintree yesterday to see how it will work.


Mersey Care has taken what some believe to be a very bold step by becoming one of the first NHS organisations to declare we have an intention to have no suicides in our care. I would argue that with the knowledge that is now available, there is a lot more we can do. When you look at other areas of healthcare, they don’t have anything like the amount of research and depth of knowledge that Professor Appleby and his colleagues at Manchester University have produced.

Frankly, we are awash with information, knowledge and data about what happens before, during and after suicide. I think we have got to stop walking past that evidence and doing things without necessarily ensuring we use the best evidence and the best knowledge to drive the change. We know so much about how to make a change and how to make a difference and if we can do that collectively, both within teams, the organisation as a whole and with other agencies, I am sure we can see those numbers go down. For me that is the absolute acid test of what we do. We have to see those numbers go down. That is our moral and social responsibility.


Talk Walk

Among that vast amount of data on suicide prevention, there is clear evidence that there is a public perception that suicide is inevitable, which is something we have to change.  We can do that thought publicity, social media and through our work here at Mersey Care to eliminate suicide in our care.

We can also join together for the Big Brew Talk Walk at Aintree Racecourse on 4 October to make a collective stand against the stigma surrounding mental health that often stops those with suicidal thoughts asking for help. Early intervention can make a real difference in saving lives, but many people are denied that by a fear of being stigmatised for admitting they are struggling.

If we can get as many people as possible to the 5km walk on that Sunday, we can all make the first steps together to stamp out stigma and help eliminate suicide. No one thing will be effective in saving people who have suicidal thoughts; it will be a number of different initiatives and calls to action that finally change perceptions that suicide is inevitable. It is a family event, gates open at 12 with the walk starting at 1.00pm and you can register for it here.


Joe  Rafferty

Chief Executive