Number of patients at Norfolk’s A&E departments after self harming or attempting suicide above national average

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. - Credit: Evening News © 2009

Suicide rates have been rising for the past eight years nationally, according to a Norwich charity.

It is a concerning trend and in Norfolk the number of patients presenting at A&E departments after self harming or attempting suicide has been above the national average.

The most recently available data for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital shows 439 such admissions in 2011-12 – more than double the England average of 212 admissions for that year.

In the year-and-a-half from April 2012 to October 2013 there were 1,454 admissions to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn, and there were 269 admissions at the James Paget University Hospital (JPH) in Gorleston over the same period.

People who find themselves in this desperate situation need care, understanding and support.

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At least one Norfolk county councillor fears this cannot always been found at the region's A&E departments, and proposed that protocols be examined. The unnamed member of Norfolk's health overview and scrutiny committee said they were aware of at least one local case where families felt they were not met with understanding of mental health conditions in A&E.

A second county councillor raised cases where they believe that vulnerable people, who have attempted suicide, were released from hospital as soon as they were physically able and without appropriate aftercare.

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The committee is set to examine A&E protocols, along with those at the region's mental health trust, at a meeting at County Hall next Thursday.

This will include asking what training staff have had, how the discharge process works and asking what steps the region's mental health trust takes to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence, after a patient has been discharged. Reports prepared in advance of the meeting outline what support is available at the A&E departments of the N&N, JPH and QEH. This includes mental health liaison services at all three departments.

Former patient Lisa Fernee, (not her real name), said that it was essential that all staff had up-to-date training in mental health issues, and that a dedicated mental health practitioner was key.

Miss Fernee, 37, of Norwich, was admitted to A&E seven times within two years, in 2001 and 2002, but she had not told her family the extent of what happened.

She attempted suicide by taking a series of overdoses and was taken to hospital by ambulance on one occasion. 'I remember it was a very difficult time,' she said. 'It was not very consistent, how I was treated by the doctors. Some were more compassionate and empathetic than others; some were very blunt with me.'

She said that when she attempted suicide twice within days and saw the same doctor on both occasions, he was 'less sympathetic' the second time and at times she wanted to 'run away'. She added that waiting for triage while feeling that desperate was difficult, and it was hard to talk through her medical history with somebody new. Pip Coker, chief executive of mental health charity Julian Support, said suicide rates had been rising since 2007.

She said people who had reached that 'desperation point' and were admitted to A&E needed to be put in touch with support, much of which is offered in the voluntary sector.

She said her charity could help address issues like housing, benefits and loneliness. 'This is not just an NHS issue, it is a whole system issue and we need some real commitment to eradicating gaps in provision across the piece,' she said.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.

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