At least three in four GPs have experienced the suicide of a patient, the results of a new survey have found.
Almost 470 GPs nationwide completed the survey, which was carried out by the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) and the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP).
It revealed that 77% of GPs have experienced a patient suicide and 68% of these said that this had an adverse effect on them, including feelings of sadness, a sense of professional inadequacy and reduced confidence.
However, the suicide of a patient also made GPs more aware and more vigilant when it came to dealing with their patients, the survey noted.
It also found that GPs consistently reported the need for further suicide prevention training. Those who had undergone such training had more positive attitudes towards suicide prevention. They were also more confident in dealing with the needs of their patients and in identifying appropriate services that those patients may need, compared to those who did not have further training or previous experience of suicide.
However, just 19% of GPs had undergone such training.
Meanwhile, the survey also found that GPs had limited access to specialist support services for patients with suicidal ideation. For example, just 15% of GPs said that they had additional services at their practice to deal with suicidal people, while just 33% said that their practice had a personal liaison with psychiatric services.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Justin Brophy, clinical advisor at the NOSP, pointed out that GPs are often the first healthcare professional that distressed or suicidal people come into contact with.
"Suicide prevention in primary care is key but is a very challenging area for GPs. This new research suggests that GPs are open to, and would benefit from, additional training on the recognition and management of suicide risk.
"The study also emphasises the fact that while training is important, improved connections with, and access to, mental health services are also essential in order to facilitate GPs to manage patients' suicidal behaviour," he said.
The findings were also welcomed by the ICGP's director of mental health services, Dr Brian Osborne.
"We look forward to rolling out a national programme of further education for GPs on suicide prevention and self-harm, in collaboration with the NOSP. GPs are the first and ongoing point of contact when patients present with mental health difficulties in the health system," he said.
He explained that as part of the management of mental health problems, including suicide and self-harm, all GPs in Ireland make clinical risk assessments and take appropriate measures, including referral to secondary care services and/or liaising with the family, to mitigate against any risk.
The NOSP and ICGP will soon begin a national practice support and development project to address many of the needs identified in this survey. The aim of this project is to simplify and support good practice among GPs who may be faced with suicidal patients.
The report on the survey can be viewed here