Nurses face suicide risk News release..



New figures published by the Liberal Democrats suggest that suicide rates among registered doctors and nurses are significantly higher than the national average for the population at large.

As a result, local MP Edward Davey has written to the Chief Executive of Kingston Hospital to check that every effort is being made to safeguard their well being. Kingston Hospital staff have faced additional pressures caused by the growing demand for services caused by the closure of Queen Mary’s hospital on top of a London-wide staffing shortage.

Commenting, Edward Davey, said:

"These shocking figures reveal the reality of the stresses faced by our doctors and nurses..

"It’s vital that the NHS takes special care of its staff and patient can help in that too.

"We know already that healthcare professionals are under increasing levels of stress as a result of staffing shortages. Large numbers leaving the professions has put increasing pressure on those that remain to cope with the ongoing waiting lists, bed shortages and cancelled operations.

"20 years of under-funding in the NHS has not only put the lives of patients at risk but also the staff that care for them."


1. New figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats suggest that suicide rates among registered Doctors and Nurses have been significantly higher than the national average over the last decade. It is clear that the medical professions carry a higher risk of suicide.

The figures, compiled from parliamentary questions and information supplied by the British Medical Association and the UK Central Council for Nursing and Midwifery, reveal that over the last decade, the average suicide rate for registered doctors was 0.135 per thousand, almost twice the national average of 0.07 per thousand.

The average suicide rate for registered nurses was 0.11, over one and times the national average. The national suicide rate for women is significantly lower than that for men (0.03). As over 90% of nurses are female, this would suggest that the comparative figure for registered nurses could be as much as 4 times the national rate.

The Department of Health (DoH) was unable to supply precise breakdowns of suicide rates for the medical profession. The information is not held centrally but may be held by individual National Health Service employers. The DoH was unable to confirm whether doctors or nurses were employed at the time of their death or whether were in NHS or private practice. The figures represent registered nurses or doctors and do not distinguish between registered nurses in general practice, community or mental health, or registered doctors in general practitice, senior or junior hospital doctors, or consultants.

Professor Keith Hawton from Oxford University has been commissioned by the DoH to carry out research into suicide and stress among a number of occupational groups, including doctors and nurses. The DoH is unable to say when the research will be published.

Studies have shown that suicide is triggered by a number of compound factors such as recent marriage or relationship breakdown, financial problems, depression, alcohol or drug abuse. In the medical professions, the stress of caring for others often in traumatic circumstances, under funded and overstretched services and the long hours worked may contribute to the strain on relationships, exacerbate depression and mental problems, or fuel alcohol and drug abuse. The most recent Occupational Health Decennial Supplement (OPCS) list of high suicide risk professions states that "medical and related professions figure prominently, probably reflecting their knowledge of how to achieve successful suicide and possibly their access to pharmaceuticals."

The British Medical Association has been concerned about the stress levels in doctors. "The sheer volume of work and competing demands on their time are causing worrying levels of burn out and stress amongst Britain's senior hospital doctors and GPs. Inadequate resources to do their jobs properly is a major cause of emotional exhaustion, compounding the difficulties caused by the clash between work and home life. The major stress factors are: Excessive overall workload; Competing demands on their time; Sharing the emotional distress and physical suffering of patients; Inadequate resources for the job." (Press Release 21 June 2000).

The RCN estimates there are 17,000 nurse vacancies in the UK created by the large number of nurses leaving. This means even greater pressure on those who remain to cope with long waiting lists, bed shortages and cancelled operations. The OPCS shows that 6 of the 10 occupations which carry the highest risk of suicide for women are in health care.

Liberal Democrat research has highlighted how incomplete the Government's data is on suicide among the professionals that we employ to work in our public services. Although the statistics supplied by the DoH should not be used for comparison with other professions, only the Ministry of Defence was able to give complete and accurate figures. The DfEE was unable to supply central figures on suicides among Teachers. The Home Office felt that it would be too expensive to supply figures of suicides among Police Officers, Fire Officers and Probation Service personnel. They did supply information on the Prison Service but noted that the figures 'may underestimate the number of self inflicted deaths'.


2. This Liberal Democrat research will be published in this week's Nursing Standard (published Wednesday 27th September). Nursing Standard are also publishing the results of a questionnaire into depression amongst nurses which shows that nurses who get depressed blame work for their condition.


3. A copy of the letter from Edward Davey to the Chief Executive of Kingston Hospital

John Langan
Chief Executive
Kingston Hospital NHS Trust
Galsworthy Road
Kingston KT2 7QB

October 2000

I am writing in response to a recent study undertaken by the Liberal Democrat health team which, shows that suicide rates among registered Doctors and Nurses have been significantly higher that the national average over the last decade.

Clearly this is a very worrying trend. As a result of this research, I would greatly appreciate if you would confirm what measures the Hospital takes to protect staff and ensure that their well being is cared for. It would also be helpful if you could confirm the level of suicides among your staff in the past five years.

Whilst a written response would be appreciated, I firmly believe that the seriousness of this issue means that it should be included on the agenda of our next briefing meeting.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely


Edward Davey MP


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