To ask Her Majesty's Government what estimate they have made of the number of people per year who die as a result of suicide and, prior to their deaths, (1) had been diagnosed with, and (2) had been treated for (a) cancer, (b) neurological disease, (c) respiratory disease, or (d) heart or circulatory disease, in the previous 12 months.
19 February 2021
The information requested falls under the remit of the UK Statistics Authority. I have therefore asked the Authority to respond.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond | National Statistician
The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
House of Lords
10 February 2021
Dear Baroness Royall,
As National Statistician and Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority, I am responding to your Parliamentary Questions asking what estimate has been made of proportion of deaths per year recorded as suicide where the person had been diagnosed with a terminal illness (HL13017); what consideration has been given to collecting data on deaths recorded as suicides where a terminally ill person has taken their own life (HL13018); and the number of people per year who die as a result of suicide and, prior to their deaths, (1) had been diagnosed with, and (2) had been treated for (a) cancer, (b) neurological disease, (c) respiratory disease, or (d) heart or circulatory disease, in the previous 12 months (HL13019).
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes annual suicide death registration statistics for England and Wales as part of our annual statistical release for the UK,. The latest available figures were published by the ONS in September 2020 and covered calendar years up to 2019.
The information we hold on deaths is limited to what is recorded at death registration, which is based primarily on the death certificate by a doctor, or information about the cause and circumstances of the death provided by a coroner. We are unable at present to collect data or provide figures specifically on suicide where the person had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, since information on the deceased’s circumstances prior to death, such as diagnosis or treatment, is not among the particulars generally recorded on the death certificate.
Table 1 below shows the number of deaths where the underlying cause was suicide, and where the conditions requested where mentioned as contributory causes for the latest available year. It is important to note that death certificates do not record all health conditions the deceased might have had if they did not contribute directly or indirectly to the cause of death.
The ONS has acquired a range of other datasets, including Hospital Episode Statistics and General Practitioner records, which will be linked to mortality records. It is possible that we will be able to use such data linkages in the future to understand how many people who die by suicide had a terminal illness.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond
Table 1: Number of deaths where the underlying cause was suicide and where cancer, neurological, respiratory or heart disease was mentioned as a contributory cause; England and Wales, registered in 20191,2,3,4,5
Cause of death
...of which mentioned cancer
...of which mentioned neurological disease
...of which mentioned respiratory disease
…of which mentioned heart disease
 Due to operational difficulties, suicides registered in 2019 in Northern Ireland and Scotland were unavailable at the time of analysis, and so last year’s annual release is for England and Wales only. The ONS will update the UK figures at a later stage.
 The National Statistics definition of suicide is given in Box 1 below for deaths registered since 2001.
 The definitions used to define the selected contributory causes are given in Box 2 below.
 Figures for England and Wales (area code K04000001) include deaths of non-residents, based on postcode boundaries as of November 2020.
 Figures are for deaths registered, rather than deaths occurring in each calendar year. Due to the length of time it takes to complete a coroner’s inquest, it can take months or even years for a suicide to be registered. More details can be found in the ‘Suicide Registrations In The UK’ statistical bulletin.
 A single death certificate may contain a number of contributory causes. For this reason, the categories above are not mutually exclusive.
Box 1: International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) codes used to define suicide
Persons aged 10 years and above
Injury/poisoning of undetermined intent
Persons aged 15 years and above; excludes Y33.9 where coroner’s verdict was pending for the years 2001 - 2006
Box 2: International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) codes used to define the selected contributory causes