THE recently published National Confidential Inquiry into Suicides and Homicides has highlighted the strong relationship between alcohol and suicide.
The Minister for Health, Edwin Poots, has responded by confirming that funding for suicide prevention will be safeguarded.
This is a welcome reassurance but what is the position regarding alcohol services?
Currently, the Health and Social Care Board are consulting on Tier 4 in-patient addiction units. The indications from consultations are a closure of units or wards with only three in-patient residential facilities as the preferred option, covering all of Northern Ireland.
This will affect the addiction wards in Downshire, Holywell, St Luke’s, and the Tyrone and Fermanagh hospitals but also have implication for Cuan Mhuire in Newry, Carlisle House, Belfast, and Northlands in Derry.
How can the minister exclaim such concern for alcohol-related suicides in June, then announce the closure of residential treatment units in the future?
There has been some specific drug-related initiatives over the past five years; substitute prescribing for heroin users, reduction of benzodiazepine use within primary care GP prescribing and funding for community/voluntary groups targeting young people.
There has been minimal additional investment in Trust Addiction Services over the past 10 years regarding alcohol abuse.
The health minister in June 2010 estimated that alcohol abuse costs £240 million in health and social care alone, in Northern Ireland annually.
If the minister wants to reduce the rate of suicide, he must demonstrate commitment to develop alcohol services, both community and residential, and not close in-patient units.
Mental Health Nurses Association/Unite The Union representative