Suicide attempts on Tube fall for first time in five years as TfL staff interventions double

Transport bosses hail efforts by staff to be more responsive and sympathetic to vulnerable passengers

Tom Batchelor@_tombatchelor
Friday 01 March 2019 01:57
New TfL suicide prevention programme doubles number of interventions by staff

The number of suicide attempts on the Tube has fallen for the first time in five years, figures show.

The slight drop comes as transport bosses hailed efforts by staff to be more responsive and sympathetic to vulnerable passengers and increase interventions across the underground network.

Transport for London (TfL) data showed there was an average of 2.8 suicide attempts per four-week period in 2014-15, 3.1 in 2015-16, 4.2 in 2016/17, and 5.5 in 2017-18.

Analysis of the first eight months of the current financial year shows there were 48 attempts – an average of 5.3 per four-week period, the first time since at least 2014 the rate has not increased.

It follows efforts by TfL that have doubled the number of interventions – when staff approach passengers displaying signs they may be contemplating taking their own lives.

However, TfL said it was “too early to draw any conclusions” as to whether its intervention scheme could be linked to the drop in suicide attempts, pointing to a fall in the national suicide rate.

Martin Bendrey, head of suicide prevention at TfL, told The Independent: “We have seen a notable rise in the number of staff interventions as a result of the new training programme on how to identify and support any customers who appear to be in distress.

“Suicide is an incredibly complex issue and it is too early to draw any conclusions. We can’t tackle suicide alone but we can make ourselves as responsive and sympathetic to vulnerable people as possible.”

Analysis by the Press Association showed there were 5.7 interventions for every suicide attempt on the London Underground network since staff were given advice in November 2017 on how and when to intervene.

This compares with 2.8 interventions in the six months before.

Tube worker Hayley Baines stopped a woman making an attempt on her own life just two days after receiving the training.

“She was getting very upset because her Oyster card wasn’t working,” the 31-year-old said.

“I took her over to the machine but there wasn’t any credit and she started crying.

“I said, ‘What are you thinking of doing?’ She said she just wanted to sit on the platform.”

The woman later left the station voluntarily, but returned an hour later.

“She ran down. I ran down straight after and saw her on the edge of the platform.

“We spoke and she sat down on the edge of the platform.”

Ms Baines raised the alarm with a supervisor and stopped the trains entering the station.

“Eventually I managed to speak to her, she got up and we went into the supervisor’s office, but it was terrifying, actually terrifying,” she said.

Tube driver Vaughan Thomas’s experience of suicide on the Tube was even more harrowing.

TfL suicide prevention programme: tube driver recalls hitting passenger on tracks

Describing an incident in 2007 in which a passenger lost his life, the 61-year-old said: “I noticed a young man in casual clothes step out and was standing on the track looking at me.

“As you can imagine, it was an awful shock to see something there that shouldn’t be there.

“It became clear he wasn’t going to get out of the way. So I closed my eyes.”

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It was the first suicide Mr Thomas experienced first-hand during his eight years’ service with TfL. The next day, he was granted permission to sit in the front cab next to a driver and retrace his route, this time continuing fully into the station where it happened.

He was given the all-clear to return to driving duties a month later. But the incident continued to play on Mr Thomas’s mind.

“Each time I was coming to a station I was assessing if I had seen them here, could I have stopped?” he said.

Efforts to increase the number of interventions on the Tube mirror Network Rail’s “small talk saves lives” campaign which seeks to encourage members of the public and station staff to intervene if they believe someone is contemplating ending their life on the above-ground network.

Network Rail has trained 16,000 employees in how to help when they fear someone is feeling suicidal and has partnered with the Samaritans to tackle the problem.

The campaign encourages passengers to notice potential warning signs, such as a person standing alone, looking distant or withdrawn or staying on the platform for a long time without boarding a train.

Samaritans is available 24/7 every single day of the year to listen and offer support to anyone who is struggling to cope. People can contact Samaritans by phone, free of charge, on: 116123, via email: jo@samaritans.org, or visit samaritans.org to find details of their local branch.