Strengthening the frontline

28 April 2019

Investing in primary care for effective suicide prevention

29 April 2019

Around 6,000 people die by suicide every year in the UK. Around two-thirds of people who take their own lives aren’t in contact with mental health services in the year before they die, but many visit their GP in the months before their death.

Primary care therefore has a crucial role to play in suicide prevention. Strengthening the frontline explored the role of GP services in helping people who are at risk of suicide, reviewing the evidence about what GPs and their colleagues could do to help save lives among people with suicidal feelings.

Funded by our 2018 corporate partner, Investigo, and working alongside Samaritans, the report identifies five areas for improvement to help GPs to offer life-saving support: 

  1. Provision of effective, ongoing training for GPs;
  2. Investment in the capacity of primary care services to enable longer appointments and continuity of care for patients needing ongoing support; 
  3. Provision of emotional support for GPs themselves; 
  4. Development of effective care pathways between services;
  5. Improvement of the referral process so that GPs can easily access further support for people who are feeling suicidal.

This research highlights the potential primary care services have in helping people at risk of suicide before they reach crisis point – if such services are given the right support.


We’re calling on the Government to:

  • Roll out evidence-based suicide prevention training for existing GPs and ensure that it is sufficiently covered in the curriculum for new GPs. 
  • Expand training for GPs so all trainees are given adequate exposure to patients who are at risk of self-harm and/or suicide
  • Invest in emotional support services for GPs 
  • Develop care pathways for people with suicidal feelings and people at risk of suicide. 
  • Direct social prescribing towards local areas with the highest rates of suicide as a priority
  • Ensure safer prescribing for people at risk of suicide 

Local policymakers, including Integrated Care Systems, should:

  • Establish liaison arrangements with mental health professionals to offer guidance and support when GPs need specialist input 
  • Ensure primary care representatives and social prescribing link workers are represented in multi-agency suicide prevention groups 

And GP practices should:

  • Support continuity of care, monitoring and follow-up of people identified as being at risk of suicide by, for example, offering appointments with the same GP, establishing practice-wide policies on suicide prevention and actively seeking contact with at-risk patients who disengage.

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