A grieving dad who lost his son to suicide has accused Tay Road Bridge bosses of putting “cost and inconvenience” before lives.
Phil Welsh, whose son Lee took his own life in 2017, has called for suicide prevention measures on the bridge.
But he was told barriers could not be installed due to the huge expense and significant traffic disruption the work would cause.
Phil, who is also campaigning for a 24/7 refuge centre in Dundee, said: “Every other day there are reports of people being present on the bridge and we are all very clear what their intentions are.
“I got in touch with Councillor Lynne Short, chairwoman of the Tay Road Bridge Board, and received a response which left me very concerned.”
In an email to Phil, seen by the Tele, Ms Short said engineering consultants had been approached last year about the implications of installing barriers.
“It is estimated that full design costs would be in the order of £250,000, with actual construction costs in the order of £8 million,” Ms Short wrote.
“To strengthen and install the barriers would be hugely disruptive and take in the order of one year, with the bridge reduced to single-lane traffic for this time (six months per side).
“It should also be noted that while such work might deter someone intent on harming themselves, it would in no way guarantee that they would not be able to.”
Phil accused officials of putting money before human life.
He said: “It would appear changes could be put in place to prevent people climbing over on to the other side of the walkway, but cost and inconvenience appear to supersede crisis.
“The saving of a single life should supersede these factors.”
Speaking to the Tele, Ms Short said: “We take the welfare of every bridge user, especially those who are vulnerable or in crisis, extremely seriously. Every single suicide is a human tragedy.
“We are acutely aware the Tay Road Bridge has become a focal point for people in crisis.
“The bridge manager and his team are dedicated to supporting vulnerable people who present at the bridge, backed by investment in new cameras in 2017 and a thorough training programme for all staff.
“Although bridge availability has been affected on many occasions to allow staff and police to deal with incidents, actual suicides are rare.
“Bridge staff regularly attend suicide prevention meetings to discuss how we all might contribute to suicide reduction across the region, and act on any new initiatives that are applicable to the bridge.
“Any physical measures introduced to the bridge have to be effective and while these might deter someone intent on harming themselves, it would in no way guarantee they would not be able to.
“What is critical is that people who are having suicidal thoughts have someone or somwhere they can turn to when these thoughts become overwhelming so that they do not get to the point of acting on them.”
Superintendent Graeme Murdoch of Police Scotland told the Tele that in the three months to the end of September this year, officers responded to 60 reports of concern for people on the bridge.
Last year, the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board published a Q&A explaining why suicide prevention measures had not been installed, saying barriers were “not practical” due to the 52-year-old structure being unable to support the additional weight.
Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for action to make the Tay Road Bridge safer for people who are thinking of ending their lives.
An online petition demanding measures are put in place to make it harder for people to consider using the bridge to take their own lives.
The Change.org petition has amassed nearly 400 signatures at time of writing, with a target of 500.
It calls for measures such as barriers to be installed in protect vulnerable people.
Michael Low started the petition after a friend took their own life.
He said: “My personal mission is to take this to the authorities.
“The fact is there needs to be higher fencing or other materials or methods to ensure that the Tay Road Bridge is no longer available in a person’s hour of distress.”
The petition has been backed by Phil Welsh, who lost his son Lee to suicide in August 2017.
Phil said: “The bridge needs to be looked at with the evidence that things like barriers can’t be put in place.
“As well as supporting the petition, I have sent a letter to the bridge board asking about protections on the bridge. I haven’t heard anything back yet.
“We’re just trying to keep the conversation going as much as we can because there’s a lot more that can be done to help people in need.
“We’ve also been campaigning for a 24-hour crisis centre, like in Edinburgh.
“I do think they should look at what can be done at the bridge, with barriers being a big one. If it is the case that they can’t put barriers in place then that’s fine, but I would like to see evidence supporting that.
“All routes should be followed before making a decision.
“The grassroots support should be there to help people before they get to that stage, but there should still be something at the bridge.”
Officials from the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board have examined such measures and ultimately decided it was not feasible to make any substantial changes to the bridge’s structure.
The bridge deck cantilevers — long beams or girders commonly used in bridge construction — would be unable to support additional barriers because of the strain windy weather would put on them, it has been claimed.
Board vice-chairman Jonny Tepp said the bridge management are actively looking at ways to make the bridge safe.
“They do their best to make themselves aware of what action can be taken,” the Liberal Democrat councillor for Tay Bridgehead said.
Dundee City Council also launched an online campaign last month highlighting where people can go for support if they are having suicidal thoughts.
If you need help, or need someone to talk to, a Samaritans volunteers can help.
Contact them on 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It said the key themes were patient access to mental health services, patient sense of safety, quality of care, organisational learning, leadership and governance.
Referring to risk management, the report said: “Patients report telling staff they were suicidal but the risk was not taken seriously until they made a serious attempt to take their own life.”
‘Violated and traumatised’
In relation to patient safety, the report noted: “Some patients report being frightened of certain staff on the wards who have a poor attitude to the patients in their care.
“Others mentioned that another patient had assaulted them whilst they were on the ward.”
The report said the use of restraint within inpatient facilities was of “great concern” to patients, who had experienced it or witnessed it taking place.
It said: “Patients feel violated and traumatised, particularly if they have personally suffered violent abuse in the past.”
It added that staff seemed unable to control the availability and use of illegal drugs on the wards in the inpatient facilities.
“Both patients and families report seeing drugs delivered, sold and taken within the Carseview Centre site,” the report said.
“Staff confirm this is a serious issue which is not being adequately addressed.
“There is a lack of support from management for frontline staff attempting to address this issue and it is having a detrimental effect on patient care and treatment regimes”.
‘Unexpected and concerning’
In a section on the Crisis Service, the report said that the Crisis team “struggles to respond to sudden surges in demand on the service.”
It said: “There are occasions when the length of time to wait to be seen is long and families supporting someone in crisis are advised to phone the police or NHS24, if they are worried.
“This advice is unexpected and concerning to carers coping with a crisis in a domestic situation.”
The report said the centralisation of the out-of-hours Crisis team to Carseview Centre has had a “detrimental effect on those patients in Angus and Perth & Kinross who are experiencing mental health crisis”.
It said: “There is a perception that whilst the Crisis service has expanded in recent months, the situation has worsened in terms of patients being assessed then not being offered any crisis intervention, or referred back to the GP.”
Inquiry chairman David Strang said: “The themes which have been identified will shape the next stage of the inquiry.
“Our final report will include conclusions and recommendations which will lead to the improvement of mental health services in Tayside.”
NHS Tayside chief executive Grant Archibald said: “We are taking on board all comments in the interim report, alongside the feedback we received from the Health and Social Care Alliance (the Alliance) published in their report in December 2018.
“The key themes which have been identified in both the Alliance report and in today’s interim report are recognised by the board and the mental health leadership team – and we are taking action on these.
“I also recognise and want to thank the many staff who are already working really hard to improve services and look forward to their continued support.
“It is clear that we have further work to do but since I came to Tayside, I have made mental health a top priority and I am confident we can learn lessons, strengthen our engagement with patients, service users, families and the public and make the right kinds of changes, at the right time, to transform our mental health services.”
He added: “We would like to thank everyone who has shared their experiences so far and we look forward to the independent inquiry’s final report and recommendations which will be a major influence on the future shape of mental health services in Tayside.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said an interim report into mental health services in Tayside will be published “imminently”.
Responding to questions from Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard about the inquiry, Ms Sturgeon said she would expect relatives who campaigned for the inquiry to be given advance copies of the interim report, which is expected to be published this month.
The inquiry was launched following a public campaign by families who blamed poor care at the Carseview Psychiatric Centre at Ninewells Hospital for a series of suicides.
The interim report will be published next week although it will be several months before the full inquiry report is completed.
Mr Leonard told the First Minister that some of the relatives whose campaigning led to the inquiry feel they have not been kept up-to-date with its progress and believe it is not “transparent”.
He said that when the inquiry was set up then health secretary Shona Robison said it should be seen as “a force for good” and asked if Ms Sturgeon believed this aspiration is being met.
Mr Sturgeon said it would be wrong for the Scottish Government to “pre-empt” the inquiry but said its findings would be scrutinised and any recommendations acted upon.
She added: “Of course we want to learn lessons and our sympathies are with the families who have experienced those losses.
“We established an independent inquiry in Tayside. That hasn’t yet reported. I hope it will report soon and it will be fully scrutinised by the government.”
Mr Leonard said Mandy McLaren, the mother of Dundee suicide victim Dale Thomson, has lost confidence in the inquiry.
He said: “She asked me to ask you directly if families will see an advance copy of the interim report before it is published.
“Will you listen to the voices of those families? Will you do what you can do to restore their confidence in this inquiry?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “This inquiry is being led by David Strang. It is an independent inquiry.
“If the government was interfering in the conduct of that inquiry, I am sure Richard Leonard would be raising that in the chamber.
“I understand David Strang has met with family members. It would be full my expectation that an advance copy of the report would go to those directly affected.
“I will pass that specific point to David Strang but I would stress it is an independent inquiry.”
Earlier, Conservative MSP Bill Bowman pressed health secretary Jeane Freeman over plans for a 24-hour crisis centre in Dundee.
Councillor Ken Lynn, the the vice-chairman of Dundee Heath and Social Care Partnership, has pledged his “total commitment” to creating a centre in Dundee, but Ms Freeman the issue had not been raised with her or the minister for mental health, Claire Haughey.
Mr Bowman said later: “It was clear from the cabinet secretary’s answer that the SNP are disconnected from the challenges faced on the ground.
“There seems to be no plans for the new centre in Dundee, or for the government to help NHS Tayside create one.”
GPs in Dundee are now able to prescribe spending time in nature to improve patients’ health and wellbeing as part of a pilot scheme.
A trial programme of “green health prescriptions” will be available from Lochee Health Centre, Whitfield Health Centre and Taybank Medical Centre.
The three Dundee GP practices will discuss with patients if it is appropriate to offer a nature-based intervention as part of their treatment or as a preventative measure.
The activities have been designed by NHS Tayside and will be printed on prescription paper.
NHS Tayside chief executive Grant Archibald said: “There is no doubt there is a strong connection between green space and good mental and physical health. Parks, woodlands and open spaces make a real difference to how happy we feel.
“They also improve our immune system and encourage physical activity and social interaction.”
The Dundee Green Health Partnership (DGHP) will signpost green initiatives and raise awareness about the positive impact that nature can have on people’s health.
The project is a collaboration between NHS Tayside, Dundee City Council, the voluntary sector, Dundee University, Abertay University and local community initiatives.
Neighbourhood services convener, councillor Kevin Cordell, said: “I’m delighted to see a host of key partners coming together with a goal to use our wonderful outdoor spaces to improve physical and mental health.”