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Adams meets Minister on suicide prevention

8 January, 2007


A Sinn Féin delegation led by Party President Gerry Adams this morning met the British Health Minister Paul Goggins to review progress on the suicide prevention strategy and to discuss the British government's financial commitments on this issue in the time ahead.

The Sinn Féin delegation included Fra McCann MLA; Kathy Stanton MLA; Caitriona Ruane MLA; Cllr. Jennifer McCann; and Pearse Gormley from Ógra Sinn Féin.

Mr. Adams urged the Minister to "speedily extend the telephone hotline to all areas and ensure that it is properly funded." And he repeated his call for mobile phone companies to provide a free phone service for anyone phoning the helpline from their mobile phones.

I also raised with the Minister the absence of any visible action on an all-Ireland basis, despite our constant demand that this be put in place. It doesn't make sense that there is no joined up approach between the two Health departments. There is an urgent need for a suicide awareness campaign on an all-Ireland basis.

The Minister told us that he putting a proposal on this to the Suicide Strategy Implementation Group on January 17th. I intend seeking an urgent meeting with the Irish government to discuss this."

Full text of Mr. Adams statement:

The developments so far on suicide prevention has been broadly positive. However, the scale of the problem is clear. Last year there were more than 600 deaths by suicide on the island of Ireland, a significant increase from the previous year.

This meeting comes ahead of the suicide prevention strategy entering its second budgetary year. The strategy itself is now operational.

This mornings meeting provided an opportunity to discuss a number of relevant issues as we look into the second year of this strategy, some of which are matters of concern.

For example, the resources for the first year have to be used up by the end of March 2007. We want to be certain that all of these are devoted to suicide prevention rather than being recycled into other work by the Department or health trusts.

There is also a concern about the amount of money from the first year's funding which was given to the Health Promotion Agency (HPA - £700k) half of which is supposedly for generic awareness raising work. And we intend pursuing this matter with the Health Promotion Agency.

We also discussed with Mr. Goggins the introduction of proper training and protocols in suicide awareness for health professionals, including GPs. He has undertaken to monitor the uptake and the content of the training with four training events now scheduled in the next few weeks.

We also pointed out that the capitation formula used to allocate resources does not take into account the objective need in relation to suicide prevention which the work of the Suicide Task Force identified in its research. Last summer, Paul Goggins had to provide an additional allocation on top of the amount computed by the capitation formula to reflect the high need in west and north Belfast.

The suicide helpline was set up last autumn. There can be no doubt that has saved lives. It is currently running on an inadequate shoestring budget. What is now needed are the additional resources which will allow the project to develop to its full potential. The British government needs to bring to bear all of its influence to persuade mobile phone providers to agree to the helpline being available free to mobile phone users most of whom are young people.

The phoneline is part of an emergency referral to support services which people at risk of suicide need to access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Minister was very positive on this and said that the helpline will continue beyond March 2007. However, there is still no certainty about its long term future and we will continue to press on this. I also raised with the Minister the absence of any visible action on an all-Ireland basis, despite our constant demand that this be put in place. It doesn't make sense that there is no joined up approach between the two Health departments. There is an urgent need for a suicide awareness campaign on an all-Ireland basis.

The Minister told us that he putting a proposal on this to the Suicide Strategy Implementation Group on January 17th. I intend seeking an urgent meeting with the Irish government to discuss this.' ENDS

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