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Recorded deaths need more details, says Bishop of St Albans

28 January 2022

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THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has called on the Government to look beyond a coroner’s present duty of determining when and how people die, and to consider also why they came to their deaths.

Dr Smith is currently piloting a Bill through Parliament to require coroners to record contributory factors when someone takes their own life — part of his campaign to cut deaths among problem gamblers, which account for about eight per cent of all suicides in England.

Speaking during a House of Lords debate last week on the part played by social media in the deaths of children, he said: “This is a much broader problem than just this topic, although it is a superb example of why we need better research and better recording of data. All sorts of groups are campaigning and looking for much better data.”

Dr Smith continued: “There is an important principle here about how we record co-morbidities, and use that evidence. Again and again, when campaigning against massively powerful industries, one argument is that we do not really have the statistics. I have to say that Her Majesty’s Government officially come back with the same argument again and again; so, for the last five years, my question has been: Please will you help us to start getting accurate stats?

“It is absolutely crucial to get the accurate stats because, if we do not, we will never be able to devise strategies to reduce the number of suicides. You do not reduce suicides in general by saying nice and comforting things about it to people; you find out what the causes are and get a strategy to address each one.”

Replying for the Government, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, a minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, agreed that more could be done. “We recognise that quality information on the circumstances leading to self-harm and suicide can support better interventions to prevent them in the first place,” he said.

“The Department for Health and Social Care is considering including questions on gambling as part of the adult psychiatric morbidity survey this year, to help establish the prevalence of suicidal tendencies linked to gambling and to improve its evidence base.” It is also reviewing the Gambling Commission’s powers.

He said that the Government was “deeply concerned” about the impact of harmful content and activity online on children, and was committed to introducing legislation as soon as possible to ensure that platforms were held to account.

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