Over the last two years the Tavistock Institute has been involved in two projects addressing the issue of suicide on UK railways.
Suicide is a cause of a great deal of distress to everyone involved, including families of those taking their life, rail staff and travellers. With around 200 deaths a year, the financial cost to the rail industry is also considerable.
Between 2012-14 the Tavistock Institute led on a key stage in the evaluation of the Network Rail/Samaritans ‘Tackling Suicide on the Railways Programme’. This programme is funded by Network Rail, and is being delivered in partnership with Samaritans and with a number of other key organisations involved in the rail industry since 2010. The evaluation, funded by the Rail Safety Standards Board, brought together researchers and analysts from the Tavistock Institute, RSSB and Samaritans, each of which had different roles in the collection and collation of data. The report on this work was published earlier this year. A summary can be found here.
Although the evaluation was not able to detect signification changes in the location and number of suicides, it did provide indications that programme activities have encouraged a cultural shift from reacting to taking a proactive preventative stance in relation to suicide, and is helping to deal with the distress and trauma resulting from suicide. It also demonstrated the programme’s success in bringing together a wide range of different organisations in planning, promoting and delivering complex activities at both national and local levels. This has helped to ensure the sharing of information and experience between the key organisations and better coordination of policies and practices (such as communication with the media).
Activities successfully initiated across the rail network have included:
- Posters and other information disseminated across the network, to increase public awareness of Samaritans, and targeted at the groups most at risk.
- Training for Rail staff in ‘Managing Suicidal Contacts’ (MSC). With nearly 5000 staff trained since this was introduced in 2010, there was evidence that the training can help staff identify someone who might be suicidal and take positive preventative action.
- A Trauma Support Training (TST) was developed and started in 2011 and has since then helped over 1000 senior and managerial staff gain a better understanding of how best to support staff who have been affected by suicide.
- A number of physical measures (such as mid platform fencing) have been put in place, encouraged in many places by effective local partnership working.
The work to date has also indicated that there remain a number of unanswered questions, and there are now plans for further research, to be funded by Network Rail and commissioned by Samaritans. This research is currently being developed and may explore areas such as the reasons why people might choose railways to take their life, the factors which might lead to this, and behaviours they display which might help rail staff and others identify those at risk.
As part of the preparation work for this new research, the Tavistock Institute was asked to undertake a review of the data sources on rail suicide in the UK available to researchers. Our work indicated that there is no shortage of data available, but that this is currently dispersed across a number of different organisations, including the British Transport Police, RSSB and individual rail companies. Sharing this data, between organisations, and with researchers, can be hampered by practical issues (such as the complexity of the data sets) as well as by concerns around confidentiality, legal, commercial and intellectual property issues.
Our recommendations for overcoming barriers include ensuring that future work builds on some of the excellent partnership working that has recently developed, including partnerships promoted by the National Suicide Prevention Steering group set up to develop and deliver the ‘Tacking Suicide on the Railways’ programme. We also felt that the promotion of discussion about how different organisations manage the difficult emotions aroused and the different attitudes adopted towards the topic of suicide would help to smooth the way to even closer partnership working.
For more information about the Tavistock Institute’s involvement in this project, please contact Dione Hills.