A leading mental health specialist says prison suicides in the UK should be preventable. The claim comes from Professor Joe Rafferty, Chief Executive of Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust and Chair of the Zero Suicide Alliance (ZSA).

He will review the actions of UK prisons to raise urgent awareness of suicide prevention at the upcoming Festival of Leadership and Learning organised by Spectrum Community Health CIC.

Prof Rafferty, who has led at a senior level in the NHS for over 20 years, will use the festival’s platform on 11th August to discuss the concept and practices of zero suicide. He will also review the work undertaken at HMP Liverpool as part of the programme and its progress to date.

As an ardent campaigner for safety in mental health services, Prof Rafferty is part of a stellar list of highly respected leaders scheduled to speak at Spectrum’s ten-event festival programme over the year.

Prof Rafferty said: “Prison suicide should be preventable, not inevitable, and there’s a long way to go before the healthcare sector tackles this issue once and for all.  There is a lot that can be done to make sure assessment, risk and the sharing of appropriate information are formulated into meaningful, co-produced and usable safety plans for all those in prison using mental health services.

“Making basis suicide prevention awareness easy to access and understand right across the prison is another straightforward step to take. These and similar interventions are the sorts of approaches we have been developing in Mersey Care and with the Zero Suicide Alliance (ZSA) at HMP Liverpool.”

The ZSA is a collaboration of National Health Service trusts, charities, businesses and individuals who are all committed to suicide prevention in the UK and beyond.

Previous speakers at the festival include Andrew Furber, Regional Director of Public Health England, Phil Copple, Director General of Prisons at HMPPS and Dr Eamon O’Moore, National Lead for Health and Justice Public Health England. During his speech at the festival last month, Furber outlined his concerns as the Covid-19 pandemic has widened health inequalities across the UK.

Linda Harris, CEO at Spectrum Community Health CIC, said: “As someone who has been named one of the top 50 NHS CEOs by the Health Service Journal, we’re thrilled to have Professor Joe Rafferty join us for an informative lecture at the Festival of Leadership and Learning. His session will be aimed mostly at those working in the health and justice sector, with a keen interest in mental health – an area which we provide various services with at Spectrum.”

“We hope that the event will enhance knowledge of the concept and a better understanding of the work currently taking place to implement a zero-suicide approach – something which every professional in the healthcare sector should be aware of.”

The Festival of Leadership and Learning is designed to bring together forward-thinking advocates, practitioners of change, policymakers, and teachers to foster challenging debates.

Spectrum, which was one of the first health social enterprises to spin out of the NHS, has organised the Festival of Leadership and Learning as part of a series of events celebrating its tenth anniversary. Spectrum has supported an estimated 360,000 patients across its portfolio of community-based services in sexual health, health and justice, and substance misuse in the North of England.