HC Deb 05 July 1994 vol 246 c143
11. Mr. Brandreth

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what representations she has received concerning the "Health of the Nation" targets for the reduction in the number of suicides; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

I have received a number of representations from professional bodies, representatives of high-risk groups, voluntary organisations and members of the public. Recent representations have been constructive and broadly supportive of the targets.

Mr. Brandreth

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the White Paper "The Health of the Nation" represents the first time that suicide has been treated and tackled as a public health issue? In anticipation of the exhibition by the Samaritans that is coming to Westminster in two weeks' time, will my right hon. Friend give us an update on the progress that has been made in tackling the targets, under the "Health of the Nation" strategy.

Mrs. Bottomley

I look forward to the event organised by the Samaritans. On behalf of many, I should like to express my appreciation for their work and for the work of the great number of volunteers across the country who man the telephone lines.

More people die by taking their own lives than are killed in accidents on the roads. One of the areas in the "Health of the Nation" strategy where we set out to achieve marked improvement was that of mental health—for the first time it has been identified. A great number of measures have been taken to help us to meet the targets, which we are determined to do.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Secretary of State accept that when people are so distressed that they try to take their own lives—as a young man in my constituency did yesterday—one of the best ways of reducing the number of suicides is to ensure that they are as close as possible to the best possible medical treatment, to prevent their attempts turning into deaths and that the preservation of nearby acute services is of the essence? Will the right hon. Lady ensure that we have the hospitals and accident and emergency units to keep people alive?

Mrs. Bottomley

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point—but frankly it is a misuse of the question. Suicide is a serious matter, and good general practice and primary care services are the key. Six out of 10 people who take their own lives have consulted a family doctor in the fortnight beforehand, and the changes that we are seeking to achieve in London are designed precisely to ensure that London has the same quality primary care services as are available elsewhere. That is the single most important factor.