Suicide prevention services ‘deteriorating’ due to cuts, Samaritans warns

The charity’s chief executive told MPs resources are being overstretched

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 01 November 2016 17:14
Services are said to be under 'great strain'
Services are said to be under 'great strain'

Cuts to the health budget are resulting in suicide prevention and support services deteriorating or being shut down across Britain, the charity Samaritans has warned.

In evidence to MPs, the UK’s leading suicide prevention charity said that its local branches were having meetings cancelled because of a lack of resources, with the situation worsening from even 2014.

Ruth Sutherland, the charity’s chief executive, told the Commons Health Committee on Tuesday that a recent £25m cash injection for mental health services was “too little too late” and “not commensurate with the cost” or benefit of preventing suicides.

“The fact is we don’t know, there’s no monitoring of it to know what’s happening at a local level,” she told MPs.

“My fear is that resources are overstretched, the public health money which is diminished is putting great strain at that local level. There should be the people who can take leadership at local level but they’re overburdened and they can’t do it.

“We’ve had reports from Samaritan branches that meetings are being cancelled, that they’re being told that there isn’t enough resource to do anything. We think it’s a deteriorating situation from 2014.”

Former Chancellor George Osborne’s last spending statement actually cut the health budget by more than 20 per cent over the next five years despite headline promise to increase NHS spending.

Junior doctor training, health visiting, sexual health and vaccinations were among important areas subjected to reductions, but were outside the narrower NHS budget the Government had pledged to protect.

In September this year, figures obtained by Labour’s former shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger said 57 per cent of clinical commissioning groups had plans to reduce the proportion of their budgets spent on mental health.

The Government has pledged to give mental health services “parity of esteem” with physical health services. It says it will add £1bn to mental health services by 2020.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We are serious about reducing suicide rates, and the £25m dedicated to suicide prevention is a small part of our £1bn investment in mental health this year, which will help people with mental health problems before they get to crisis point. Our suicide prevention strategy is also soon to be refreshed and aims to reduce the suicide rate, as well as provide better support that information to those bereaved or affected by a suicide.

“As the Prime Minister has made clear, the struggles that people with mental health problems face are among the very deep inequalities that this Government is determined to address.”

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