Closed petition Coroners must be lawfully obligated to statistically record veteran suicides

At a time when UK veteran suicides continue at an alarming rate we still have no lawful obligation placed upon coroners to statistically record veteran suicides, unlike countries such as the US, Canada and Australia.

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Government must make the statistical recording of veteran suicide a legal obligation to all coroners, in doing so finally honouring its part in the Armed Forces Covenant.

These brave men and women have paid the highest physical and psychological costs for serving Queen and Country, and UK government must repay this by efficaciously monitoring their mental health: of which veteran suicide is the most pressing issue of all.

Coroners must routinely statistically record all veteran suicides.

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Government responded

This response was given on 21 September 2020

The Government is committed to supporting our Armed Forces veterans and recognises that a better understanding of suicide risk in the veteran population can lead to more efficient interventions.

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To achieve this, we have taken a number of initiatives that have helped to collect data about veteran suicides that is reliable and consistent, and we continue to look at mechanisms which could further improve the quality of this data.

In this context, the Government acknowledges the concerns this petition raises and is considering options including the one presented here whilst remaining mindful that coroners have a specific judicial role, which is set out in law, to record only facts necessary in support of making their statutory determinations.

The Government is committed to making the UK the best place in the world to be an armed services veteran. On 13 July 2020, Parliament approved the inclusion of a question about previous service in the Armed Forces the 2021 Census. This data will, for the first time, provide Government a clear indication of all veterans living in the UK.

On suicide in particular, the Government publishes studies on the causes of death, including suicide, of veterans from the 1982 Falklands Campaign (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/307098/20140428_Falklands_Statistical_Release-1982to2013.pdf) and publishes similar research on veterans from the 1990/91 Gulf Conflict (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/517240/20160125-Gulf_March16_REVISED_O.pdf).

To date, these have found that suicide was significantly lower in both these veteran cohorts than the general population (when matched for age and gender). The next reports are provisionally due to be published in December 2020.

A new study on mortality rates and causes of death of military personnel, including veterans, who served since 2001 is underway led by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). It will be regularly updated to provide near real-time monitoring of all causes of deaths, including suicides, and will compare its findings with the general population during the same period. Officials are working with NHS Digital, the Health Research Authority and National Records Scotland and are hopeful that the initial report will be published later this year.

This is being complemented by a separate study, commissioned from Manchester University and jointly funded by MOD and NHS England into known veterans who take their own lives, looking at risk factors in the year leading up to suicide. The first report is expected in summer 2022.

These studies will provide increasingly robust data and will be used by NHS England and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs to help understand whether suicide in the veteran community is disproportionate compared with the rest of the UK population and identify potential interventions.

The Government’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy does not highlight veterans as a high-risk group but includes them as a group requiring tailored approaches to reduce their risk of suicide. The first cross-Government suicide prevention plan in England, published on 22 January 2019, sets out a programme of work across national and local government and delivery agencies to reduce suicide. This includes actions by MOD and NHS England for veterans and Armed Forces personnel. The Department of Health and Social Care has committed to publishing an updated workplan and progress report against the National Strategy in 2020.

In England, service personnel approaching discharge and veterans can access NHS England’s Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS). TILS provides a single point of referral for veterans to the NHS England Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service (CTS). While TILS has made a significant difference to the health outcomes of many veterans, there is a cohort of veterans experiencing periods of crisis who may require admission to inpatient services or a more bespoke offering such as placements in specialist services. NHS England has commissioned a new Veterans' Mental Health High Intensity Service (HIS) which will help to meet these needs and launch later this year.

Veterans can also access support services from www.gov.uk/mental-health-support-for-the-uk-armed-forces, call the 24-hour veterans' mental health helpline on 0800 138 1619, access the MOD’s Veterans UK and its Veterans Welfare Service and Defence Transition Service on 0808 1914 2 18 (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/veterans-uk hd-forces) or contact Veterans’ Gateway on 0808 802 1212 (https://www.veteransgateway.org.uk). Support is also available from Togetherall (previously Big White Wall) (https://togetherall.com/en-gb/), which offers online mental wellbeing support 24/7 and the Samaritans 116 123.

Ministry of Justice