Ulster Unionist Mental Health Spokesperson, Robbie Butler MLA, has called on the Department of Health to commit to launching the Northern Ireland suicide prevention strategy – ‘Protect Life 2’ – in spite of the absence of a local Minister.
Robbie Butler MLA said:
“It is disgraceful that the ‘Protect Life 2’ strategy has been left waiting on a shelf simply because we don’t have a local Minister to add their signature to it. If it were not so serious it would be laughable.
“When recently asked about the delay, Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer said that the Health Department were keeping the strategy under review in terms of whether it was in the public’s best interest to launch it now or defer it until such time as there is a local Minister in place. Why this is even up for debate is beyond me. This is an issue that has the potential to impact on everyone in Northern Ireland, regardless of age, class, income, religion or political opinion. Its implementation could hardly reasonably be described as controversial, but the lack of its implementation certainly should be.
“Given suicide rates continue to soar in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK, - and tragically last year alone 305 people here took their own life - I am convinced that it is very much in the public interest for the Health Department to move forward to implement this strategy. In fact, I am shocked that they haven’t already built up the courage and gone ahead and launched it.
“The facts show that Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rates throughout the UK; we have the highest rates of poor mental health; we’re the only UK region without a current mental health strategy; and our funding per capita for mental health services is far below the UK average.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that we need this new strategy adopted and implemented as a matter of urgency. Even the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland have said that they are not in a position to drive forward in the absence of a strategy.
“Christmas can be a difficult period for many people. Feelings of loss, bereavement or isolation can all be exacerbated at this time of year. It is therefore shocking that this is the second Christmas that local people are entering into without a proper suicide prevention strategy in place. Whilst the problems in the local political system certainly aren't the fault of the leaders of the local health service, whether they like it or not, they will be judged on how they acted, or failed to act, in the current vacuum.”