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'Give staff permission to speak out about patients' suicide risk', says charity

Charity calls for NHS trust chief executives to give staff permission to share information about patients who are at risk of suicide

The chief executive of a national charity has called on NHS trusts to support healthcare professionals to share information with families about suicide risk


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Ged Flynn, the chief executive of Papyrus, which works to prevent suicide in young people, spoke at a suicide prevention conference at the University of Salford on February 1.

He said: ‘I’ve written to [154] NHS [trust] chief executives to say it’s not okay for a parent to find out after the death of his or her child, in the words of a GP: “I’m sorry about your son’s death, only now can I tell you that this was his third attempt”.’

He wants the chief executives to write to their staff to say that ‘in law, if you make a best interest decision and you write it down and you communicate that with your manager, share information to save lives’. 

Lack of support

Sangeeta Mahajan, a consultant anaesthetist in the NHS whose 20-year-old son Saagar died from suicide in 2014, told the conference that NHS trusts and regulatory bodies are not supporting healthcare professionals to share information if they believe their patient is at risk. 

Her son’s depression assessment scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) assessment scale were the highest possible, but Dr Mahajan only learned this after his death. 

Mr Flynn said healthcare professionals can be frightened of being sued for breaking patient confidentiality if they share information with parents. 

He added that five chief executives have responded to him so far praising his idea. 

A 2014 consensus statement published by the Department of Health, and supported by the Royal College of Nursing, said healthcare professionals should discuss with patients how information should be shared if there is a serious concern over suicide risk. 

The statement said if professionals are satisfied the person lacks capacity to make a decision on whether to share information about their suicide risk, the professional should use their professional judgement to determine what is in the person’s best interests. 

More from the suicide prevention conference

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