Researchers publish first ever guidance to support NHS workers following a colleague death by suicide
A group of researchers from the Universities of Surrey, Keele and Birmingham have published the first evidence-based postvention guidance specifically to support NHS workers following a colleague's death by suicide in the UK.
As well as academics, the research team included clinicians who have been personally affected by the death of a colleague by suicide.
The postvention guidance is based on a two-year study identifying the impact on and the support needs of NHS staff following a colleague’s suicide.
Postvention refers to the support and care offered to people who have been impacted by a suicide death. This guidance has been developed specifically for the NHS and for individuals within the NHS who are affected by a colleague’s suicide, and those who will be delivering postvention support. The guidance also includes a range of resources, signposts and tools to aid the delivery of supportive and holistic postvention.
Dr Ruth Riley, Senior Lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Surrey, who is the Principal Investigator and one of the lead authors of the guidance, explains:
“According to the Office for National Statistics, the suicide rate amongst health professionals is 24 per cent higher than the national average*, and yet up until now, there has been no evidence-based guidance to support colleagues who are directly affected by these deaths.
“This guidance is designed to help all NHS Trusts deliver compassionate, targeted and timely support that will serve as a protective factor for staff members who are affected by the death by suicide of a colleague. Robust postvention not only supports and protects staff, it also protects the patients, people and communities that they serve.”
The guidance is underpinned by a programme of research and data analysis that included a systematic review of the literature, in-depth interviews with affected staff groups across the NHS, and a stakeholder workshop. The findings from the research programme demonstrated that existing guidance does not address key organisational and professional contexts that are unique to NHS culture and support has often fallen short of staff needs.
Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, a GP Principal and Professor of General Practice Research at Keele University, who has conducted previous work on suicide and self-harm in health service clinicians, said:
"When a colleague dies by suicide, it can impact all members of a clinical team. We have developed evidence-based guidance, which we hope will be adopted by all NHS Trusts Integrated Care Boards. We hope that this will lead to the establishment of a team with dedicated, trained and supported staff who can respond rapidly, safely and robustly to the needs of staff bereaved by a colleague's suicide."
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said:
“The impact of a death by suicide is devastating for all those affected. Whether at work or in wider society, every effort should be made to prevent these tragedies.
“This guidance is a call to action for all of us. Everyone must work together to break down stigma around suicide, and ensure staff receive compassionate support and time to grieve.”
For more information on the guidance, please visit the study website
Notes to Editors
* The suicide rate amongst health professionals is 24 per cent higher than the national average, which is largely explained by the elevated risk of suicide among female nurses (four times the national average), male paramedics and female doctors (ONS, 2017 & 2021b).
UNISON was involved in helping to draw up the guidance.
UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.