Suicide audit held up by coroners

An attempt by six London primary care trusts to introduce suicide audits is being held up by coroners. The PCTs, which include Havering, want to find...

An attempt by six London primary care trusts (PCTs) to introduce suicide audits is being held up by coroners.

The PCTs, which include Havering, want to find out information about suicides such as ethnicity, marital status, housing status, where the individual lived, employment status and the means of death.

The idea is this will help the trusts design pan-London intervention and prevention strategies.

Speaking at a conference in London last week, Bob Barr, Havering PCT’s commissioning manager for mental health and social inclusion, told Community Care: “We don’t have the sort of information we want. We are working with five other PCTs in the area to find out how to get this information. It’s something that I think other areas might be struggling with.”

He described the situation as a “weakness in the suicide prevention agenda”, adding: “It’s the most important thing you can do to find out why people commit suicide and then put in place ways to stop them doing it.”

Coroners are only meant to release such information to “properly interested people” and while some do allow PCTs access to their records, this is by no means universal.

The regional difficulty is mirrored nationally where talks are taking place between coroners and the Ministry of Justice to try to get a more consistent approach and more co-operation.

Some of the information can be accessed through the Office for National Statistics following the death, while some PCTs send representatives to inquests.

The Department of Health has been working with the MoJ for the past four years to introduce secondary legislation into the new Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to address this issue.

The hope is ultimately to end up with a central register as happens in Scotland.

A spokesperson for the Coroners’ Society of England and Wales said coroners generally wanted to help but that a tension existed between the public interest and the privacy of the individual.

He added the coroner’s role was to register and investigate deaths and not to prevent suicide.

An added complication is that there is a difference between suicides and cases of self-harm that lead to death.

Dr Elaine Church, chair of the suicide prevention group Campaign Against Living Miserably, which hosted last week’s conference, said coroners thought they were protecting families by not disclosing details. But she said it would be better for families in the long-term if PCTs were given the information they needed to prevent suicides.

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