Image: Participants at yesterday’s conference in the Stormont hotel, organised by the crisis counselling charity Contact NI.
By Brian Pelan, VIEW editor
The crisis counselling charity Contact NI has voiced its concerns over the recent Public Health Agency (PHA) statement on the future of the regional Lifeline service.
Lifeline is Northern Ireland’s helpline service for people who are experiencing distress or despair. It is funded under Protect Life, the Suicide Prevention Strategy.
In a recent press statement, the PHA announced a number of recommendations which have been approved, including;
- Continuation of Lifeline as a free 24-hour telephone service, operated by staff with specific skills and experience in supporting people in crisis, assessing their needs and arranging a warm handover to appropriate support;
- In addition to the helpline, there will be continuation of follow-on counselling, with capacity for 25,000 sessions per year. The service will be enhanced with the capacity to provide 2,600 sessions per year for relative/ carer support;
- Lifeline will be enhanced further with 6,500 sessions per year for complementary therapy being made available for those with the greatest levels of anxiety, to assist them into talking therapies;
- Investment in Lifeline will remain at the current level.
The PHA also revealed that the “procurement of the telephone helpline service and local support services will be through public tender.”
In a press briefing statement, issued today at the Stormont hotel in Belfast, Contact NI voiced a number of concerns, claiming that;
• PHA plans to “downgrade, fragment and underfund the Lifeline service are unsafe and unfit for purpose”.
• Only providing referral to counselling for people at ‘immediate risk of suicide’ fails people who are to shy about speaking up.
The Contact NI statement also asked: “Why have the PHA pushed through this determination without the opportunity for a live Assembly Health Committee debate?”
Carrie Montgomery, deputy CEO of Contact, who was at yesterday’s conference, organised by Contact NI, said: “My major concern is that in the absence of a working government why has this determination from the PHA been signed off? MLAs should have had the opportunity to debate it.”
Maurice Campbell, who lost his son Patrick to suicide in 2013, said: “There is a risk of services becoming fragmented because of the outcome of the PHA review. It’s very important that we continue to provide feedback to the PHA and put some political pressure on them to ensure that the service still remains accessible.”