Editorial: Prevention role loss makes no sense

Last updated 12:27 09/06/2014

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The loss of the region's suicide prevention co-ordinator is hard to fathom.

The Nelson-Marlborough role was one of six introduced around the country in a two-year pilot scheme.

It was part of a national action plan to help tackle the country's unacceptably high suicide rate that sees an average of 10 people a week taking their own lives.

But the end of the pilot this month will also see the end of Ministry of Health funding, and the co-ordinator's role is going.

The ministry has given no direct explanation about why it has not continued funding the roles. Certainly it has given no indication that the co-ordinators were not doing a valuable job, and others have praised their effectiveness.

Labour MP Maryan Street, who went public on the issue last week, says it is a cruel funding cut, affecting vulnerable people who need more support, not less. She says local mental health professionals are lamenting the loss of the co-ordinator role that has been carried out with "passion and commitment" through Nelson Bays Primary Health.

Primary Health chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs has also heaped praise on the co-ordinator's work, saying they had done an amazing job and the role was an asset to the sector.

He says the job has made a difference because it was not merely an advisory role, as in previous years. The co-ordinator had a clinical caseload, seeing and helping patients who were suicidal.

Those patients would now be taken up by the DHB and PHO's mental health services.

From what is known, it seems the dropping of the role is solely a financial decision. That is not uncommon in the stretched health service, but in an area as vital as suicide prevention, it seems short-sighted.

As Street says we can only hope that no-one dies because of the decision.

For its part the Nelson Marlborough Health Board says urgent treatment services for suicidal people provided by a specialist crisis team will be unaffected, and that suicide prevention is everybody's business, including that of all clinicians.

As an overall approach that is fair enough, but surely a specialist in the prevention role provides more focus and drives better results.

The board says it is planning for clinical aspects of the role to be included in a child and adolescent community liaison position, but it's unclear how much of the previous co-ordinator's role will be covered.

In recent years, health authorities have been making inroads into the suicide rate that has fallen by almost 30 per cent since the peak in 1998.

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But Maori and, in particular, youth suicide, remain stubbornly high. In 2011 the youth suicide rate for both males and females was the second highest in the developed world.

It's to be hoped the new liaison role and associated "prevention and postvention plans" that all district health boards are required to develop, will have the resources to make further inroads into reducing the toll that has such devastating impacts.

- Nelson

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