In 2019, Cavita Chapman, Programme Lead for Suicide Prevention, received funding from Health Education England to work on an initiative across Kent, Surrey and Sussex to improve how GP practices help distressed children and young people. It was an ambitious aim to bring about a culture change in primary care for 10 – 25 year olds who self-harm or are thinking of suicide. It took a leap of faith to attempt this.
Finding the right people to develop this initiative was crucial and again trust played a big part. Cavita quickly got Dr Sam Fraser on board as Clinical Lead. As a clinical psychologist, with extensive experience with children and young people, she based her HEE Darzi Fellowship on this work.
However, putting her trust in me, a Worthing mother suffering the appalling loss her 22- year-old son, was a much greater risk. Would I be seeking comeback for the failures I felt my son had incurred by his local GP Practise? Would I be too overwhelmed by sadness to be professional enough to do this work over the next 18 months? Cavita called me up after hearing about my charity – Olly’s Future – which I set up in memory of my son Oliver (Olly to all his friends), who died by suicide on February 14th, 2017, aged 22. We met for coffee at a café on Worthing Pier almost exactly two years after his passing.
I told Cavita how Oliver had been prescribed Citalopram, an SSRI, for the first time by a doctor he’d never met and over the phone. He picked these up at the in-house pharmacy. It was the first time he had sought help from the doctors for depression and anxiety. He had a wonderful life, full of friends, loving family, world travel and academic success yet, after four days of taking Citalopram, he took his own life. My legacy to Oliver is to make sure this does not happen to other parents and that doctors are much better equipped in helping young people who are thinking of ending their lives. They have so little training in suicide prevention.
Cavita asked me to be the Patients Carer Lead for ‘Practise Hope’ – as the initiative is now known.
She told me: “I can see you have the spirit to just go off and do the right thing in giving people hope and inspiring them”. So, senior leaders trusted Cavita to lead programmes and she trusted me.
I worked closely with Sam and three Practise Hope Co-ordinators based at local Mind offices in Brighton, Dartford and Kingston who liaised with local surgeries in the three targeted areas where instances of suicide and self-harm were found to be greatest. Practise Hope ran until September 2020, involving 27 GP practices.
Staff surveys in the pilot areas showed there was a desire for more information to improve confidence and competence, so we developed a 60 minute clinical training and a 90 minute non-clinical training to deliver at GP practices which were met extremely favourably.
Olly’s Future took ‘Practise Hope’ to its next level, rolling this out digitally and scaling this up so that it is accessible to GP practices across the UK.
In being part of the Practise Hope team, I realized that GP trainees had limited training in suicide prevention. As a trainer of the world’s leading two-day training – Applied Suicide Interventions Skills Training (ASIST), I felt there was a need for Olly’s Future to develop a programme for the doctors of tomorrow and received £20,000 from BMA Giving Grant to run our Dr SAMS (Suicide Awareness in Medical Students) initiative at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School. This includes
The funding provided the opportunity for around a third of the students to get involved in Dr SAMS but the Deanery decided to directly fund Dr SAMS, thereby offering all its 890 first year students the chance to attend one or more of the Dr SAMS components. Some 351 students have already undergone ‘Talking about Suicide – Ten Tools’ training. See feedback attached.
Professor Juliet Wright, Head of Teaching and Learning at BSMS, said: “I can say that the students have benefited enormously from the programme and the very real and practical support this gives them is its strength – students leave with a confidence to take the next steps should they need too, and that is such a very valuable skill to have given them.”
In the next few months, Practise Hope will be launched at GP practices across Warwickshire and Coventry and South West London, working directly with health and care partnerships. COVID19 restrictions led to the initiative going on line and thereby enormously increasing its reach. See Practise Hope Launch, which includes details about the initiative.
Olly’s Future has been asked to take part in the BMA International Conference on Physician Health in April and I have been asked to address the BMA Chair and the well-being stakeholder group on both Practise Hope and Dr SAMS, with the view of scaling up both initiatives.
From the first meeting with Cavita on Worthing Pier, when she told me ‘in order to change the system, you have to be in the system’, trust has played an enormous part. And it is with trust and the unending love of my dearly cherished son, that I’m able to create a legacy for Oliver which is making a huge impact in helping to save precious young lives from suicide.