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NHS services "failing to support people who self-harm"

Many people who self-harm are failing to receive the help they need because of patchy provision of services across the UK and a lack of supervision and training of NHS staff, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) says.

In a new report, Self-harm, suicide and risk: helping people who self-harm, the RCPsych examines the current provision of care for people at risk from self-harm and suicide, and makes a series of recommendations to improve standards of care.

While there has been a downward trend in the number of completed suicides in recent decades, the incidence of self-harm in the UK has continued to rise over the past 20 years. An estimated 4 in 1,000 people have self-harmed, and the rate of self-harm in the UK's young people is among the highest in Europe.

As part of the report, the RCPsych surveyed over 1,500 of its members. Fewer than half the respondents felt that they or their team had sufficient training to undertake assessments of people who had harmed themselves.

Many respondents reported that junior doctors and other inexperienced health professionals are left - often at night - to assess and manage the complex and potentially life-threatening situations of people who have harmed themselves or attempted suicide. The survey suggests the situation is particularly bad in accident and emergency departments.

Joe Ferns, Director of Policy at Samaritans and member of the working group, said: "This report is a timely reminder that good care for people at risk of self-harm and suicide can lead to a reduction in the nation's suicide rate. There is strong evidence of a link between economic hardship and suicide; figures released last week show that, in the Republic of Ireland, people taking their own lives in 2009 increased by 24 per cent, compared to the previous year.

"Meanwhile, 2008 UK figures showed the number of suicides and the suicide rate increased slightly compared to 2007. This could indicate the start of an upward trend continuing until there is an improvement in economic conditions. In the current economic climate, and against a backdrop of budget cuts, it is vital that the government is committed to a suicide prevention strategy."
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"Self-harm can be hidden from the family and friends for years, so delay in getting help is (if it was wanted at all at that time) slow. When someone has been self-harming and they are admitted onto ward or A&E, patients are offered help via mental health team, but not much else can be done at that time. There are often long waiting lists to see someone.The patient may refuse help any way. More needs to be done in early years and schools to tackle this problem, children's charities Sure Start and others must do more to raise awareness of this problem. Women's prisons are full of self-harmers and I wonder what is being done, if anything?" - Poppy Nice