Male and female walking across bridge.

Jackie Doyle-Price appointed Minister for the Prevention of Suicides

05 November 2018. Published by Genevieve Isherwood, Senior Associate

What is the role of the Minister for the Prevention of Suicides, and how will her appointment impact Insurers?

In a recent announcement, to coincide with World Mental Health Day, Jackie Doyle-Price was appointed the first ever "suicide prevention minister". Thought also to be a world first, the Minister will lead efforts to reduce the number of suicides, and end the stigma attached to mental health, which can prevent individuals from seeking assistance.

Ms Doyle-Price, who was already a junior minister in the Department of Health, has said that, through this role, she has met people who have been bereaved by suicide whose 'stories of pain and loss will stay with [her] for a long time'. The Minister is to set up a task-force which will work with experts in suicide and self-harm prevention, charities, clinicians and those personally affected by suicide. Her aim is to ensure that every local area has an effective suicide prevention plan in place.

The appointment was not without controversy (as a recording of Ms Doyle-Price joking that she would rather commit suicide than join UKIP emerged), and it has been suggested that this does not go far enough to tackle mental health issues. However, her appointment, alongside a £1.8million pledge from Theresa May to ensure that the Samaritans' helpline remains free, indicates that the Government has recognised the impact of suicide and is committed to tackling mental health issues.

Suicide can be a difficult topic to talk about, but its impact cannot be underestimated. There are more than 4,500 self-inflicted deaths every year in England, and suicide remains the leading cause of death in men under 45. One in five adults has considered taking their own life at some point. Ms Doyle-Price's appointment should, therefore, be welcomed by all.

What does it mean for Insurers?

Insurers will be aware that a suicide will invariably require an inquest to be opened. Healthcare providers, including individual practitioners (such as GPs), will often be called to give evidence, leading to a claim on the policy for representation. If there is any potential criticism, the suicide can be used to found a legal action (for failing to prevent the suicide), brought by family members of the deceased. These claims allege that the care provided to the deceased was inadequate. However, claims can also be brought against employers of those who commit suicide for failing to spot the signs of mental ill-health or for exposing the employee to distressing situations (for example in prisons or the ambulance service). For Insurers of such entities, it is important to be aware of the risk of such claims, and take steps to mitigate them.

It is, therefore, extremely positive that pro-active steps are being undertaken by the Government in this area. The appointment of Ms Doyle-Price, and the work her task force will undertake, is intended to:

  1. De-stigmatise mental health issues, particularly with regard to suicidal thoughts, leading to more open discussion and a greater willingness to seek assistance;

  2. Ensure local areas implement a suicide-prevention plan to set up triggers to identify those at risk of suicide and enable them to seek (and receive) help at an earlier stage; and

  3. Encourage the various entities involved with individuals at risk of suicide to work together and cross-refer, in order to prevent suicidal individuals falling through the cracks.

The work that the suicide prevention minister will carry out is ultimately intended to reduce the numbers of individuals who take their life. As well as the obvious benefits for the individual concerned, and society as a whole, any reduction in the suicide rate should lead to a comparable reduction in claims, and so also benefit Insurers.

Insureds with expertise in the healthcare arena should be encouraged to work with the taskforce to ensure that their experience is fed into the wider strategy, and that they are able to effectively implement any suicide-prevention plan. It will also be important for Insureds to keep abreast of any recommendations that arise out of the Minister's work and for Insurers to ensure that any prospective Insureds are compliant with them.

Hopefully, Ms Doyle-Price and her taskforce will be able to bring about a positive change in this traumatic area. We will provide further updates on any recommendations.

Further information on help for suicidal thoughts and coping with the loss of a loved one to suicide can be found here and here.