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Medical negligence lawyer urges clinicians to introduce personalised mental health assessments as study finds 41 NHS Trusts use standardised tools

Mental health is complex, individual specific and is every changing. As a medical negligence solicitor I've supported a number of families who have sadly lost relatives to suicide when their loved ones have been under the care of mental health services.

Through my work I see it's unfortunately common that patients are often not assessed appropriately; for example key information may be missed and crucial questions may not be asked when standardised procedure and documents are used. 

This results in people being incorrectly assessed and their risk to themselves not appropriately considered and acted upon to ensure their safety. Sadly, without a thorough assessment that considers the individual’s specific needs and difficulties, a person may not receive the treatment they need.

Study finds more than 40 NHS Trusts using locally developed, unvalidated suicide risk assessments

A recent article in the British Medical Journal detailed a broad national study of NHS Trusts in England. The study found that 41 of NHS Trusts who responded were using “locally developed, unvalidated tools to assess risk of suicide”. 

The research found variation in staff training with 10 NHS Trusts saying they didn't train their staff to assess suicide risk. Other trusts said they were unsure what training would be best for their staff.

Disparities in assessments

Crucially, the study also concluded it was possible to receive two different suicide risk assessments in the same department at a specific NHS Trust resulting in two different treatment outcomes. 

The study highlighted that this disparity in assessments potentially puts people at risk because the treatment offered depends on the tools used and the level of training. 

Guidance published by NICE

In 2022 the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) published guidance which advises clinicians to focus their assessment on the individual's needs and how to support their immediate and long term psychological and physical safety. It specifically advises clinicians against using risk assessment tools to assess suicide risk.


Each individual’s mental health is different, in the same way physical health differs for individuals. It's important that mental health services move away from standardised risk assessments and thoroughly assess the individual’s needs and presentation. 

I'm hopeful this guidance will see clinicians engaging with individuals to set a clear and personalised treatment plan specific for that person from the moment of their first assessment. This is crucial to improving patient safety in mental health services.

The recommendations from NICE are welcomed key changes to improve patient care and patient safety in mental health services.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting families affected by issues in mental health care at our dedicated medical negligence section. Alternatively, to speak to an expert contact us or call 0370 1500 100.