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Almost eighty per cent of surveyed GPs have experienced a patient suicide (77 per cent), most of whom reported that this had an adverse effect on them (68 per cent), leading them to experience feelings of sadness, upset, a sense of professional inadequacy, reduced confidence and also to practice increased awareness and vigilance when dealing with patients.

These figures are according to a new study, carried out by the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) and Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) and collected from 469 GPs across all nine HSE Community Health Organisations (CHOs), explored GPs’ experiences of patient suicide.

The General Practitioners related their experiences of patient(s) suicide and the effect that this had on them, gaps in services for suicidal persons, their preparedness to assess suicidal persons, the supports, policies and procedures in place in GP practices to deal with suicidal persons, and GPs’ attitudes towards suicide prevention.

GPs consistently reported a desire for further suicide prevention training so that they might be better prepared to use a safety plan. Those who had undertaken further training showed more positive attitudes towards suicide prevention, more confidence in dealing with patient needs, and in identifying appropriate service for onward referral when compared to those with no comparable experience of prior training.

Respondents reported limited access to specialist support services, only a minority of GPs claimed that there were additional services at their practice to deal with suicidal persons (15 per cent). Only one-third of GP respondents (33 per cent) reported that their practice had a personal liaison with psychiatric services.

Clinical Advisor at the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention, Dr Justin Brophy said: “Connecting for Life, Ireland’s national strategy to reduce suicide, recognises the important role that primary care plays in suicide prevention. GPs are often the first health professional contact for individuals who are experiencing distress or suicidal thoughts. Suicide prevention in primary care is a key but very challenging area for GPs.

“This new research suggests that GPs are open to and would benefit from additional training on the recognition and management of suicide risk. The study also emphasises the fact that while training is important, improved connections with and access to mental health services are also essential in order to facilitate GPs to manage patients’ suicidal behaviour. This requirement for better access will build on some of the important work initiated under “A Vision for Change”. It will challenge service planners and providers to develop more effective responses to already busy GP’s and mental health services to meet this need, and still cope with many other pressing demands”.

The ICGP’s Director of Mental Health Services, Dr Brian Osborne welcomed the survey, stating that the ICGP look forward to rolling out a national programme of further education for GPs on suicide prevention and self-harm, in collaboration with the HSE NOSP.

He said: “The ICGP curriculum is clear that all GPs trainees are taught to conduct clinical suicide risk assessments as part of their training. The ICGP has collaborated with NOSP since 2014 to develop and continuously offer an e-learning module on Suicide Prevention in General Practice. Mental health and suicide prevention updates are also regularly in the programme of continuing education that the ICGP offers. However, we welcome this opportunity to partner with NOSP again to further strengthen our practices”.

The HSE NOSP and ICGP will shortly begin a national practice support and development project to address many of the needs identified in the survey. The aim of the project is to simplify and support good and safe practice in a way that will have beneficial impact to GP’s care of suicidal patients around the country.