Health

'Suicide prevention app' trial

  • 4 February 2016
  • From the section Health
file picture - smart phone Image copyright anyaberkut/ Thinkstock

An NHS mental health trust is working with US researchers to develop an app that may stop people from killing themselves.

Liverpool-based Merseycare and Stanford University have been in talks on how the technology could work.

The aim is to have the prototype ready by June with the first patients being monitored in January.

There were 6,122 suicides in the UK in 2014 - a 2% decrease on the year before.

Social media monitoring

The app would allow clinicians to provide round-the-clock observations on people who they fear may be considering suicide.

It would work by monitoring all digital communications by a patient - emails, social media, even phone calls - and spot potential dangers.

Three quarters of suicides are in men.

Media captionRebecca Gibson spoke to the BBC about her husband Andy's suicide

If for instance someone was tracked as being at a well-known suicide hotspot, or missed an appointment, or even told a friend they were feeling suicidal, the app would alert clinicians who would then be able to contact the person and provide appropriate support.

All patients would have to voluntarily submit to being monitored.

Dr David Fearnley, medical director at Merseycare, said: "The potential is incredible."

He added: "We think we can anticipate people who may be likely to harm themselves with greater accuracy than we currently do, and therefore be able to do something about it and save their lives."

Last year, Merseycare committed itself to a zero suicide policy by 2020, meaning they hope to end all suicides of service users.

The initiative requires a new approach across the trust, from staff training to greater patient involvement.

The development of the app is part of that process, and is based on a belief that people are often more open with their friends and relatives than they are with clinicians.

"This is an opportunity to exploit technology in a way we've never been able to before in health, by providing very powerful, decision-making, statistical support to clinicians in real time for the people who are most at risk," added Dr Fearnley.

The development of the app builds on work that five NHS trusts and US hospitals are already engaged in.

Their collaboration has created technology that is already scanning all the data being inputted in the trusts, digitising and analysing it and telling medics - within hours - where danger signs, such as falls or medication problems, are emerging.

Merseycare and Stanford are aiming for patients to start using the app in January 2017; its success will then be evaluated by outside experts over the following three years.

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