Hospitals turned suicidal people away, study shows

Families say gardaí lacked training to deal with deaths

Hospital emergency departments have turned people away who went on to die by suicide, a report based on interviews with families after the suicide of relatives has shown.

The report, published yesterday, also found others who went on to take their own lives had been arrested by gardaí to “teach them a lesson”.

Some families said gardaí they dealt with after a suicide did not seem trained and in one case the family “ended up consoling the young garda”. Another family described a garda dealing with them after a suicide as “rude and derogatory” blaming it on “young people and drugs”.

Families also reported problems with the coroners' courts where they had to listen to other suicide cases before their relative's death was dealt with. "All six suicides together, it was Dickensian," one family is quoted as saying in the report which was carried out by Prof Kevin Malone of UCD's school of medicine and St Vincent's hospital, and funded by the charity 3Ts (Turn the Tide of Suicide).


The study is based on interviews with families involving 104 suicides between 2003 and 2008. The vast majority of those who died (84) were males, with 14 people taking their lives when they were aged 20 – the highest number of suicides among any one age group.

Prof Malone said the high number of suicides among young people reflected a trend in society, with Ireland having the fourth highest suicide rate in the EU for people between 15 and 24 years.

Two-thirds of families whose relatives had come into contact with health services before a suicide rated the care as negative or very negative. One family said their relative was “stitched up in A&E and given a month’s prescription”.

'Sorry, not our area'
Another said there was a problem over the hospital catchment area, with one emergency department sending an individual to another hospital with a note saying: "Sorry, not our area."

One individual was sent home from an emergency department the day before they died by suicide, while others complained that they saw different doctors each time they were admitted to hospital.

After a suicide one family was told their relative “would have been hospitalised if she had VHI”, while another was told by a psychiatrist: “I didn’t see it coming.”

“They took out his brain... and gave it back to us five months later in a box. I think maybe it was for research, I don’t know,” another family is quoted as saying.

Some families highlighted problems their relatives had at schools and colleges. One family said their relative was beaten by a teacher and another said they were singled out and humiliated during a tutorial.

Suicide clusters
The report also highlights clusters of suicides, with 15 of the cases examined linked to another suicide and 10 cases linked to three or more suicides. The clusters included three deaths within two weeks in a rural area within a 3km radius, five deaths over 11 months within a 4km radius and 29 deaths over three years in a 6km urban radius.

An early-warning system was needed to stop suicide clusters, said Prof Malone. He called for the setting up of a national suicide authority to tackle the problem in a similar way to that in which the Road Safety Authority had targeted road deaths among young men.

“Whatever is happening now doesn’t seem to be working. If this was happening in any other branch of medicine we’d be sitting around the table and figuring out how we can improve things,” he said.

3Ts chairman Noel Smyth said successive governments had promised to focus on suicide but had failed to. "There are no votes in suicidal people. They don't care," he said.


Anyone seeking help on this issue can call the Samaritans on 1850-609090 or Aware on 1890-303302