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GPs advised to monitor suicide risk in frequent patients

GPs should monitor suicide risk in patients visiting more than twice monthly, after researchers found that these patients pose a significantly greater risk of ending their lives than others.

The study, carried out by Manchester University, found that frequent attendees were 12 times more likely than typical patients to die by suicide. Patients who never visited their GP were also at a somewhat greater risk (70% more likely), prompting calls for mental health items to be added to the NHS Health Check scheme.

The researchers from the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness (NCISH) looked at suicides in England over ten years between 2002 and 2011, finding that patients who visited their GP more than 24 times in a year posed the highest risk of suicide, with mental illness often going undiagnosed.

The findings, revealed today in the ‘Suicide in Primary Care in England: 2002-2011’ report, also showed that patients receiving a mix of mental health drugs – for example those prescribed benzodiazepines together with antidepressants – ran a higher risk of committing suicide.

Lead researcher Professor Louis Appleby said: ‘We have identified that frequent attendance can be a marker for risk, as can receiving different kinds of mental health drugs. GPs could therefore use frequent attendance and a need to change or add drugs as flags to help alert them to possible risks. Alerts of this kind are used in other areas of primary care practice.’

‘Non-attendance is hard to tackle but adding items on mental health to the NHS Health Check – offered to people aged between 40 and 74 – is a logical step.’