Case Studies

Working co-productively to prevent suicide in Scotland

Sarah Forster recounts the co-production approach taken during the development of the Scottish Government Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

The Health and Social Care Academy, in partnership with Samaritans Scotland and NHS Health Scotland took a co-productive approach to ensure the voices of people directly affected by suicide were central to the development of the Scottish Government Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

The principle of co-production was fundamental for us as we know that only by working directly with people who have been affected by suicide can we hope to identify the practical solutions that would make the most difference.

We approached the Scottish Government with a proposal to ensure that the Action Plan was led by people affected by suicide and shaped co-productively. We agreed to host three events across Scotland to engage with people affected by suicide, but demand for the events was so high that we delivered six events, spanning Glasgow, Dundee, Inverness and Aberdeenshire, to ensure a good mix of participants from rural and urban areas. Experienced facilitators with an understanding of the subject area were recruited and we used facilities with break-out spaces for people and ensured that we created a safe environment where all views were respected. Many people fed back to us that this was the first time that they had felt heard.

What did we learn from working in this way?

Initially we experienced resistance from decision makers who needed to cede power to people and communities. Working co-productively is a very different from consulting with interested parties and working in this way can feel uncomfortable initially. Statutory bodies can have a fear of doing things differently and struggle with not feeling that they are leading the process. It is important to see the bigger picture when working in this way and it can be frustrating when one party is fixated on internal deadlines and their processes and procedures. If process is being valued over people and your process doesn’t allow you to listen to people and emphasise humanity, something needs to change.

Our report stimulated a parliamentary debate, which led to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee writing to the Scottish Government to request that the Action Plan will ‘fully recognise’ our 12 recommendations. The Scottish Government responded to all 12 of our recommendations in the action plan and made a commitment to a £3 million fund to invest in innovation in suicide prevention. For our part, we were delighted that our work was recognised in the recent ‘Herald Society Awards’, winning the ‘Partnership’ prize. The Health and Social Care Academy’s approach of enabling transformational change through co-production approaches that involve lived experience, and providing a framework using the Five Provocations for the Future of Health and Social Care, supported and developed new thinking to address suicide prevention in Scotland.

This work demonstrates the power of being led by the voice of lived experience and how this approach delivers positive results for the whole of society. I hope that we will see this way of working replicated in other areas and that the voice of lived experience will continue to be heard throughout implementation of policy.