Leo Docherty – 2021 Statement on Recording and Reporting Suicides

The statement made by Leo Docherty, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, in the House of Commons on 22 September 2021.

As part of the Government’s work to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran, I am committed to ensuring that all veterans who may be struggling are able to access dedicated support. Achieving this depends on a good understanding of where support is needed, including a more comprehensive understanding of veterans who tragically take their own lives. I can announce today that the UK Government are working to develop a new method for recording and reporting cases of suicide within the veteran community. This will allow for the first publication of statistics of veterans who die by suicide each year in England and Wales, and we will continue to explore ways this can be replicated across the UK in the future.

The new method is being developed by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, the Office for National Statistics and the Ministry of Defence following consultation across HMG and our devolved Administrations to determine the best approach. As set out in the ONS census output and analysis consultation, in 2023, the ONS will undertake analysis to compare the health of the veteran population, including the number of veterans with long-term health conditions or disabilities, with the general population. This analysis will also include suicide-related deaths of veterans. In the interim, we will be working with the ONS and the MOD to conduct a 10-year look back at veteran deaths by suicide. This work will inform us about how many veterans have died through suicide and other causes including drug and alcohol misuse from 2011-21, and to estimate the number that died homeless. We anticipate publishing this look back in autumn 2022.

In the strategy for our veterans, the Government committed to improve the collection and analysis of data on veterans to inform future policy. This new work will ensure we are meeting that commitment to better understand the tragic issue of suicide, understand its prevalence, and better inform future policy and interventions in support of the veteran community. This analysis will help the Government understand how many veterans die by suicide and using this data in combination with other research will enable us to better develop and target mental health and suicide prevention measures.

We are collaborating with Departments across Government to develop this new robust method and to ensure that we can better provide for those who have protected our country. In addition, the MOD, OVA and NHSE have partnered with Manchester University to investigate the antecedents to suicide in both serving personnel and veterans focusing on the year prior to the death. The study will be using data supplied by MOD on military service, information collected as part of the confidential inquiry into suicides and coroners’ reports. The study will include all suicides between 1995-2017 and will complete in August 2022.

Every suicide is a tragedy, and our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones to suicide. We urge all who may be struggling to reach out and access the support available. Those struggling to cope should call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI) or contact other sources of support, such as those listed on the NHS’s help for suicidal thoughts webpage. Support is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.