The government is set to review guidelines around the supply and prescribing of medicines as part of its new suicide prevention strategy for England, released today.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is to monitor whether retailers are complying with guidance around the sale of analgesics such as paracetamol, including promotions that exceed the recommended maximum.

And the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the MHRA will review whether regulatory change is needed to amend the quantity of tablets that can be sold.

Released today, the strategy aims to reduce the suicide rate in England over the next five years, with initial reductions observed within half this time or sooner.

It also intends to improve support for people who have self-harmed and for people bereaved by suicide.

This comes as provisional data suggests there were 5,275 deaths by suicide registered in England in 2022, compared to 4,215 recorded in 2010.

Following ‘several years of steady decline’, the new strategy highlighted an increase in the suicide rate in 2018, in part due to changes in how suicides were recorded, as well as other factors.

The government said that while the current suicide rate was ‘not significantly higher’ than when a previous prevention strategy was introduced in 2012, ‘the rate is not falling’.

‘We must do all we can to prevent more suicides, save many more lives and ultimately reduce suicide rates,’ the strategy added.

In addition to guidelines relating to the supply of medicines, prescribing is also set to be reviewed.

The strategy reiterates that prescribers working in primary care should follow the safe prescribing guidelines set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), especially when prescribing antidepressants and analgesics.

And guidance for GPs on safe prescribing may be strengthened to reduce the risk associated with the prescribing of certain medicines as the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) revises its curriculum.

The DHSC also committed to working with NHS England (NHSE) and professional bodies to help better signpost people who come into contact with primary care services to suicide prevention and support.

Alongside the national strategy, NHS England also released a toolkit to help prevent suicide among NHS workers.

It warned of an increased risk of suicide among healthcare professionals, possibly due in part to their increased knowledge of and access to drugs.

And it said that healthcare workers may be exposed to particular factors that may increase the risk of suicide.

This includes proximity to traumatic events as well as high levels of workplace stress, such as patient abuse and burnout.

The most recent pharmacist workforce wellbeing survey, conducted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and charity Pharmacist Support, found that over two-thirds of community pharmacists reported experiencing abuse from the public, with burnout, overwork and poor mental health rates also high.

Commenting on the release of the five-year government strategy, Maria Caulfield, minister for mental health and women’s health, said that the government would be continuing to ‘look at what we can do for groups where we see higher suicide rates or have observed concerning trends’.

And she called on everybody to ‘support each other to ensure that no one feels like their only option is to take their own life’.

‘I urge you all to check on your friends and family, your colleagues, the people you manage and the people you speak to every day. Equip yourselves with the knowledge and skills to help people find the support they need, so that together we can continue driving this agenda forward and do all we can to prevent suicide,’ she added.

‘Suicide is everyone’s business and everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention,’ Ms Caulfield said.

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