The first evidence-based guidance to support NHS staff who are affected by a colleague’s suicide has been jointly published by the University of Surrey, which led the project, the University of Birmingham and Keele University.
The guidance, entitled ‘Postvention guidance: Supporting NHS staff after the death by suicide of a colleague‘ highlights the importance of rapid and robust responses to the immediate needs of staff following a suicide, alongside cultural awareness of mental health issues.
The term ’postvention’ refers to the support and care offered to people who have been affected ‘to facilitate recovery after suicide and prevent adverse outcomes including suicidal behaviour’.
The new guidance calls on ICBs and trusts to put in place a trained team who can respond quickly to the needs to staff in the event of a colleague’s death in this manner. It says this response needs to be ‘rapid and robust and attend to the immediate and ongoing needs of all colleagues and managers’.
And, it adds, that a suicide-aware and mental health-aware culture must be nurtured across the NHS.
It is based on a nationwide, two-year study by the University of Surrey in which researchers found existing suicide support guidance is not specific enough for the NHS, and that support has often fallen short of staff needs.
The suicide rate for health professionals is 24% higher than the national average. The rates are highest for female nurses, male paramedics and female doctors.
Those affected by suicide are at greater risk of mental ill health and suicide attempts themselves – around 7-9% of people bereaved by suicide subsequently attempt suicide themselves.
But past research shows that if people affected receive support early enough, it can help them come to terms with their loss and reduce the risk of mental health problems and suicide.
The guidance sets out the support individuals may need, providing advice on issues such as how to break the news and how to address the impact, both emotionally and practically, afterwards.
For example, it says the effect of such situations can be severe enough that staff cannot work safely. This would need to be taken seriously and risk-assessed.
The guidance includes a checklist for managers as well as other resources.
Principal investigator Ruth Riley said: ‘Compassionate, targeted and timely support after a suicide not only helps NHS employees, it also protects the patients, people and communities they serve.’
Keele University GP principal professor of general practice research Carolyn Chew-Graham added: ‘When a colleague dies by suicide, it can have an impact on all members of a clinical team. This guidance should lead to the establishment of a team of staff who can respond rapidly, safely and robustly to the needs of those bereaved by a colleague’s suicide.’
Last month, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard told the Public Accounts Committee session on urgent and emergency care that the long-term drop in the NHS’ productivity is in part related to NHS staff’s poor mental health following the pandemic.