A toolkit has been published by NHS England to help health employers reduce the risk of suicide among staff.
Working Together to Prevent Suicide in the NHS Workforce: A National Suicide Prevention Toolkit for England sets out how to identify healthcare staff at risk of suicide and what to do about it (see box).
The toolkit follows NHS England’s guidance published in July on supporting NHS staff who have been affected by a colleague’s suicide.
The document provides information and resources so practice managers can signpost staff to support. And it provides examples of good organisational practices in preventing suicide among staff working in healthcare, as well as recommendations on developing suicide prevention strategies.
The toolkit said that, ‘given that one in five adults experience suicidal thoughts and feelings during their life, it was likely that there would be many healthcare staff struggling to cope in the workplace’.
And it pointed to evidence that some healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses and dentists – are at a higher risk of suicide than other professional groups.
For example, female healthcare workers have a risk of suicide 24% higher than the female national average, which is largely explained by the high suicide risk among female nurses (who have a 23% higher rate of suicide than other women).
Female doctors are also considered to be at a higher risk of suicide than the general population.
Meanwhile, the guidance said that men remain the most at-risk group within the general population and are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. The highest rate of suicide in men is among those aged between 50 to 54 years.
The NHS staff survey 2022 revealed that ‘high levels of physical violence, harassment, bullying and abuse experiences in the last twelve months’ are contributing to workplace stress, the toolkit also explained.
‘Association between burnout, moral injury and suicide also means it is likely that healthcare staff are at an increased risk of suicidal ideation,’ it added, while explaining that the pandemic and cost of living crisis have also negatively affected mental health among the NHS workforce, adding to the risk of suicide.
The guidance recommended that NHS organisations develop suicide prevention strategies that ensure staff are aware of the support options available to them and consider cultural sensitivity, being mindful that not all colleagues will talk about and experience mental ill-health in the same way.
Meanwhile, the Government has also launched a strategy to prevent suicide in the general population, which will include a focus on safe prescribing in general practice and perinatal mental health.
It has pledged to reduce England’s suicide rate within two and a half years, with a focus on ‘specific groups at risk of suicide’, including children and young people, middle-aged men, autistic people, pregnant women and new mothers.
The strategy said that the RCGP is in the process of revising its curriculum and will assess where guidance on safe prescribing may be strengthened to reduce risks associated with the prescribing of certain medicines.