PIPS director ‘angry and frustrated’ at ministers’ suicide crisis team failure to meet in a year and a half

Stormont suicide group fails to meet in 18 months

By Gráinne Brinkley and Kieran Hughes

A LEADING suicide prevention worker has slammed a panel of Stormont ministers, appointed to an ‘emergency taskforce’ designed to tackle the suicide crisis here, after revelations that they have failed to meet since January 2011. The Ministerial Co-ordination Group on Suicide Prevention was set up in 2006 at the launch of the ‘Protect Life’ strategy whose aim was to significantly reduce soaring suicide rates by 2011. It was designed to bring ministers together to thrash out how their departments could, in the future, work together to fight the suicide epidemic.

But although an estimated 74 people took their own lives in the Belfast Trust area in 2011, the ministerial group hasn’t met once in the past 18 months.

PIPS Programmes director Phillip McTaggart hit out at the failure of the politicians to meet. Philip, whose son took his own life in 2003, voiced his “frustration, annoyance and anger” at the lack of action.

“This issue cuts across all of Belfast, particularly here in North Belfast where we have seen the devastation that suicide can cause families, and it shows how seriously the authorities are taking this issue,” said Philip.

“When the Protect Life Strategy was first launched its aim was to reduce the overall suicide rate in the North by 15 per cent by 2011, but in Belfast alone that rate has risen by 60 per cent in the same period.

“The fact that this group has not met in so long shows me how seriously the issue of suicide prevention is being taken by the Assembly. These people are supposed to be our elected representatives and it shows a lack of responsibility on their part.  If they pump money into tackling road deaths, and rightly so, the same money should be given to suicide prevention.”

An updated version of the Protect Life strategy with new suicide prevention targets for the coming years is set to be published by the Department of Health in the coming weeks.

There were an estimated  74 suicides in the Belfast Trust area in 2011. A  spokesperson for the Department of Health said the Ministerial Co-ordination Group on Suicide Prevention only meets “on a need basis and in response to suicide prevention issues which require cross-departmental action”.

“It is the role of the group to help ensure that suicide prevention remains a priority for all relevant Government Departments,” said the spokesperson.

“On May 31, 2012, the Northern Ireland Executive approved and agreed to the publication of the refreshed Northern Ireland Suicide Prevention Strategy Protect Life – A Shared Vision. This will be published imminently. Following publication of the refreshed strategy the Department of Health intends to call a meeting of the Ministerial Co-ordination Group with a view to ensuring more regular meetings of this group.”

Meanwhile, a delegation of Sinn Féin MLAs will be meeting with Deputy First Martin McGuinness on Monday (June 11) to “express their concerns around the lack of urgency around the suicide and self-harm strategy”.

Chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee, MLA Sue Ramsey, said she spoke directly to Health Minister Edwin Poots about the lack of meetings.

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