New App to Help Predict and Prevent Suicide

An NHS mental health trust is collaborating with researchers in the United States in order to develop an app that may have a positive influence on suicide.

Liverpool-based Merseycare and Stanford University have been in talks on how the technology could work.

The aim of the two organisations is to produce a prototype by June of this year, with the aim to have the first patients monitored by the final application by January 2017.

Suicide remains a major killer in Britain, however there were 6,122 suicides in the UK in 2014; a 2% decrease on the year before.

The aim of the app is to enable clinicians and medics working in the NHS to provide 24-hour observations on people at risk of killing themselves.

In order to achieve this, the app will monitor all digital communications carried out by a patient, including emails, social media and phone calls.

This has led to criticism in some quarters that the app can be seen as a form of snooping, but it is worth noting that all patients must volunteer for the service.

Commenting on the development of the software, Dr David Fearnley, medical director at Merseycare, indicated that its potential is massive.

“We think we can anticipate people who may be likely to harm themselves with greater accuracy than we currently do, and therefore be able to do something about it and save their lives. This is an opportunity to exploit technology in a way we’ve never been able to before in health, by providing very powerful, decision-making, statistical support to clinicians in real time for the people who are most at risk.”

Merseycare has already made some very bold commitments with regard to suicide targets.

Just last year, the organisation indicated that it intends to instigate a zero suicide policy by the end of the decade, meaning that all suicides of service users will be prevented.

While the app is considered to be an important part of the process, numerous other initiatives will combine with the software in order to improve the way that suicide is handled.

The initiative requires a new approach across the trust, from staff training to greater patient involvement.

Five NHS trusts and hospitals in the United States have collaborated in the development of the app, creating new technology that will have a major influence over the prevention suicide in the future.

Indeed, the technology involved in the new application is already scanning data being inputted into the trusts in question, while also digitising and analysing it.

It is therefore already possible for the app to inform medics where danger signs are emerging for potentially suicidal patients.

Merseycare and Stanford are aiming for patients to start using the app in January 2017; its success will then be evaluated by outside experts over the following three years.

 
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NHS Trust Accepts Culpability for Mental Health Patient Suicide

An inquest into a suicide within the mental health system has found a series of failings at the centre of the issue.

Abbi McAllister, 23, fell from the sixth floor of a multi-storey car park in Birmingham city centre after absconding from her carers in April last year.

And now the father of McAllister has called for a deeper investigation into the issue, suggesting that the NHS significantly failed his daughter.

McAllister was being cared for by Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS foundation trust, and was suffering from a borderline personality disorder, depression and extreme anxiety, and a history of self-harm.

The investigation into her death revealed that the patient had attempted to commit suicide on numerous occasions leading up to the incident, with the most serious being threats to jump from buildings.

McAllister had been due to attend an off-site therapy session, when she managed to escape from carers.

Having taken a taxi to the car park where she fell, staff took over an hour to inform police of her disappearance.

The inquiry also suggested that carers fail to mention to the authorities that McAllister had previously attempted to take her own life, which was indeed understood by the institution.

McAllister’s father, Calvin Bailey, suggested that “the knowledge that her death could have been avoided if the trust had not made so many basic mistakes in caring for her” had made the already considerable suffering that his family was forced to endure far worse.

“There has to be a full review of the whole system to make sure there is adequate training. Abbi’s death was absolutely preventable. If they had done what they should have done and people had been professional and if the nursing staff would have not been thinking she’s OK, they would have taken a more professional approach,” Bailey asserted.

In addition, Bailey also suggested that the NHS trust had failed to show adequate contrition for the issue, in particular failing to apologise for its role in her death.

“The only time I got an apology was 2.15pm on Thursday after the jury had gone out to deliberate. That on its own was very distressing. No one took responsibility for Abbi’s death at all,” Bailey stated.

Commenting on the issue, a spokesperson for the trust stated that the organisation accepted the findings of the enquiry.

“The death of Abbi McAllister was a very tragic incident, for which our trust has already admitted failure to provide adequate safeguards to a vulnerable young person. We immediately undertook a thorough review of the circumstances leading up to Abbi’s death, which identified unacceptable shortcomings in the care provided to her, including the failure to fully understand the risk of absconsion and the unpredictability of her illness.”

 
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Assisted Dying Bill Divides Professionals Ahead of Parliamentary Debate

With the Assisted Dying Bill due to go before parliament next week, a fierce debate is raging on the legitimacy or otherwise of this legislation.

Sir Keir Starmer – Labour Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras, and former Director of Public Prosecutions – has proffered his support for the bill, suggesting that it will precent people being forced to “traipse off to Switzerland”.

The concept of enabling people to voluntarily end their own lives is naturally a contentious one, and enshrining it in law represents a bold step that will unquestionably generate headlines.

In particular, the balance between enabling someone to acquire to the right to die for compassionate reasons, and ensuring that the vulnerable are not exploited, is a delicate balance for lawmakers to contend with.

But Starmer, whose legal qualifications cannot be reasonably doubted, evidently has no qualms about the Assisted Dying Bill.

“In almost none of the 80 or so cases I reviewed when DPP was this an issue,” Starmer stated.

Sir Keir continued: ”Do we keep something there to protect the vulnerable and ignore the plight of those actively committing suicide or being assisted to attempt suicide, or move to a different position where there are strong safeguards?”

According to the most recent available figures, 160 people have travelled from the UK to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end their lives over the last six years.

There is also evidence from the United States that those wishing to end their lives do so in order to reduce the onerous burden that their state imposes on loved ones.

Since the introduction of the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon, 40 per cent of those who have ingested lethal drugs cited being a burden to their families and carers as a concern. In Washington State, the same figure is as great as 60 per cent.

However, not all health professionals support the position of Starmer. Three separate doctors wrote letters published in The Times which suggest that the Assisted Dying Bill fails to provide adequate safeguards to protect vulnerable individuals, and will instead lead to the criteria for eligibility being broadened over time.

Dr Peter J. A. Holt claimed in his letter that restrictions will quickly expand to include any patient seeking assisted suicide who has “inevitably progressive terminal illness”.

With the parliamentary debate on the divisive bill due to take place on September 11, people on both sides of the issue will be paying close attention to developments.

 
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Suicide Rate in Scotland Declines in New Figures

New figures published indicate that the suicide rate in Scotland has declined significantly over the last decade.

The Scottish suicide rate reduced by 17.8 percent between the periods 2000-2004 and 2010-2014, according to statistics published by SD Scotland and National Record of Scotland.

There was also a fall over the last twelve months, with 696 people having committed suicide in 2014, compared with 795 in 2013.

It is also noteworthy that the figures were even more historically significant once the new accounting system is taken into consideration.

National Records of Scotland has recently changed the way that suicides are recorded.

Under the old system, the number of suicides in 2014 would in fact be the lowest recorded since 1977.

The decline in suicides in Scotland could be attributed to numerous measures put in place by the authorities.

It is particularly notable that this statistic is decreasing at a time of economic challenges for many people; usually an indicator of high suicide rates.

Measures taken in order to combat suicide in Scotland have included the establishment of a Scottish Suicide Information Database, extensive training in suicide awareness among NHS frontline workers, the recruitment of Choose Life Co-ordinators to the majority of Scottish local authorities, and a raft of campaigns intended to raise awareness of the issue nationally.

These initiatives collectively are part of the overall three-year Suicide Prevention Strategy that was put in place by the Scottish government in 2013.

Speaking on the issue, Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health, was cautiously optimistic about the figures.

“Any suicide is a tragedy, but the reduction of 17.8 per cent represents a particularly welcome development. This would not have been possible without the dedication of the professionals who work in this often challenging field,” Hepburn stated.

“We know that suicide rates are strongly related to deprivation levels, I am pleased to see that this inequality has decreased in recent years,” Hepburn continued.

Alana Atkinson, Lead for the National Programme for Suicide Prevention at NHS Health Scotland was encouraged by “the continuing declining trend in suicides in Scotland” and particularly welcomed the fact that “the inequalities in suicide rates associated with deprivation have decreased in both absolute and relative terms for males, and in absolute terms for females.”

Further suicide statistics for Scotland can be viewed at www.isdscotland.org.

 
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