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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
'Suicide risk' for doctors and nurses
Nurses work under stressful conditions
Nurses are four times more likely to commit suicide compared with people working outside medicine, figures reveal.

And doctors are twice as likely to kill themselves compared with people working in other professions.

Overwork, stress and easy access to drugs are being blamed for high suicide rates within medicine.

Staff shortages, long waiting lists and the stress of working with the sick and dying are seen as factors.

The figures coincide with the publication of a survey by Nursing Standard magazine that showed that more than two thirds of nurses who suffer from depression blame work for their condition.

These shocking figures show that being a doctors or nurse carries a unique risk of suicide

Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrats health spokesman

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Nick Harvey, whose party uncovered the suicide statistics said it was a "tragic irony" that people dedicated to saving the lives of patients were putting their own lives at risk as a result of their work.

The figures show that over the past 10 years, the average suicide rate for nurses has been 0.11 deaths per 1,000.

This is one a half times higher than the national average which is 0.07 deaths per 1,000.

However, more than 90% of nurses are women. Women are generally less likely to kill themselves than men, with an overall suicide rate of 0.03 per 1,000.

But the figures suggest that women who are nurses are four times more likely to kill themselves than other women.

The suicide rate for doctors over the past 10 years has been 0.135 deaths per 1,000, which is almost twice the national average.

In 1998, the last year for which figures are available, 17 doctors and 56 nurses took their lives.

Suicides among medical professionals peaked in 1994 when 24 doctors and 64 nurses killed themselves.

"These shocking figures show that being a doctors or nurse carries a unique risk of suicide," said Mr Harvey.

"It is a tragic irony that when you commit yourself to saving and caring for others, you appear to be more likely to take your own life."


Carol Bannister, occupational health adviser for the Royal College of Nursing, described the figures as disturbing.

"The pressures nurses are under are well known. What we need to do is look for solutions.

"The government's human resources initiative, such as tackling nurse shortages, stamping out violence and introducing employee-friendly work practices, are a good starting point.

"We are anxious to see these initiatives make a real difference to nurses' working lives."

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association (BMA) added: "Doctors are working in an inherently stressful job. They work very long hours in difficult circumstances and the work itself is extremely taxing.

"It is also the case that doctors have a reluctance to seek professional help and have a professional work ethic which means they feel they have to struggle on and keep working even when ill, sometimes with tragic results."

The Liberal Democrats' figures were compiled from parliamentary questions and information supplied by the BMA and the UK Central Council for Nursing and Midwifery.

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