A mental health charity has called on health organisations caring for people with schizophrenia to review their suicide prevention policies.

The National Schizophrenia Fellowship reviewed 589 suicides and unnatural deaths reported in newspapers over eight years.

In a report published today, it says the review showed that almost a third of the deaths involved hospital inpatients.

'At first sight this appears alarming as one would expect a hospital to be a safe place,' says the report. 'This is not the case. People are in hospital because they are ill and need support.

'This does not detract, however, from the responsibility of health authority staff to protect in-patients from harming themselves.'

The report comes in the wake of an inquest verdict of suicide on a patient at Lister Hospital in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, last week (see panel).

The NSF report says that most hospitals experience patient suicide rarely and so 'few make plans to prevent them'.

Gary Hogman, author of the report and head of research at NSF, said: 'This has been going on for such a long time that people just accept it.

'It is just, 'Oh, well, there goes another one: they were completely mad - what's the point of doing a risk assessment when they will just do it some other way?' But that is absolutely not the case.'

Reductions in bed numbers meant wards were dealing with a mix of patients, making it hard to keep all of them under close supervision, he added.

The report argues that pressure on beds can also lead patients to be discharged prematurely, or be refused care, sometimes with fatal consequences.

It urges HAs and local authorities to review their discharge policies, ensure care plans are in place and 'ensure a comprehensive risk assessment of suicide takes place before someone is discharged or within 24 hours of them leaving hospital'.

NSF estimates that one in 10 people with schizophrenia take their own life, although the report notes that coroners are sometimes reluctant to return suicide verdicts.

The NSF analysis shows that men are slightly more likely to receive suicide verdicts than women, partly because they more frequently kill themselves by violent methods such as hanging.

Women, who more frequently kill themselves by jumping, falling or drowning, are more likely to receive open verdicts.

One in Ten. Available from NSF Publications end of March.

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