Suicide prevention a 'core' role - board

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:49 06/06/2014

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A government funding cut that's getting rid of Nelson's suicide prevention co-ordinator this month won't put the public at risk, the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board says.

"Suicidality is to be a core competency for all staff in the specialist service," said the board's general manager of mental health, Robyn Byers, in a statement replying to Nelson Mail questions.

"The triage [urgent treatment] of all suicide attempts has always been done by the specialist crisis team, which will continue. In its approach the DHB consider suicide prevention is everybody's business. All clinicians have a role in suicide prevention and many participate in educating the public," she said.

News of the job loss was broken by Nelson-based Labour list MP and electorate candidate Maryan Street, who said that suicide was one of New Zealand's biggest health concerns and it was critical that young people in Nelson had access to education and prevention support services.

"I have worked with young people in Nelson who have contemplated and even attempted suicide. They need support and help. Reducing the rate of suicide and its impact on others is really important work for the wellbeing of a community," she said.

But a funding cut would end a role that had been done with passion and commitment for 18 months through Nelson Bays Primary Health.

"Mental health professionals in Nelson lament the loss of that role. We can only hope that no-one dies because of this decision," said Street.

Primary Health chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs said the 0.8 fulltime equivalent position had been a clinical role. Previously it was non-clinical and had existed in that form for many years.

The difference was that the clinical coordinator had a caseload.

"Instead of just advising and good old bureaucracy, they're actually picking up patients who are suicidal, seeing them and addressing it. Now it's ended."

He said the DHB's and PHO's mental health services would take up those patients. "The person in the role was a valued employee of this organisation who had done an amazing job. It is and was an asset to the sector, but I've got to have confidence that the leaders in mental health in both organisations have found ways to address that client need," Swanson-Dobbs said.

"We still have some shocking statistics in respect of suicide. The powers-that-be in the ministry and others have decided not to have that role."

Byers said the health ministry funded the position as a two-year pilot.

From next month all DHBs were expected to develop suicide "prevention and postvention" plans which the ministry would review. The Nelson-Marlborough mental health directorate had begun cross-agency planning for the clinical aspects of the role to be done by a child and adolescent community liaison position, with triage of suicide attempts to continue as before under the specialist crisis team.

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The Health Ministry's mental health programmes programme manager, Gabrielle Roberts, said Nelson-Marlborough was one of six areas where suicide prevention co-ordinators had been piloted under the four-year $25m implementation of the 30 actions in the New Zealand Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

"It was always clear this was a pilot and funding would end when the pilot ends - in June this year. It was extended for longer than originally planned," Roberts said. "DHBs - who best understand the health needs of their community - may choose to continue or introduce the role of suicide prevention co-ordinators as part of their future work in this area."

- The Nelson Mail

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