Call for action after 188 'concern for safety' incidents on Orwell Bridge this year
Pedestrian access to the Orwell Bridge should be stopped to tackle the rising number of reported 'concern for welfare' incidents, a Suffolk MP has said.
Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, was speaking after a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper revealed the number of police call-outs to the bridge had increased sharply during the coronavirus pandemic.
The figures showed that up to October 27 this year, Suffolk police had been called to the bridge over "concern for safety" incidents 188 times in 299 days.
This followed 163 call-outs in 2020, which was up from 110 in 2019.
Dr Poulter said pedestrian access on the bridge needs to be looked at "very seriously".
"What we've seen across the country and Suffolk is that the number of people experiencing mental ill health and distress has increased during the pandemic," he said.
"We know that a lot people struggled during lockdown, so it's not a surprise to me to hear that the number of people needing help and assistance on the Orwell Bridge has increased during what would have been a very difficult 18 months to two years for many people.
"But what this suggests to me though, is that we need to look very seriously at pedestrian access on the bridge.
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"It strikes me that most people who go to the bridge are not going there for a pleasant walk, they are going there because they are in distress.
"If we're going to address those challenges, in my view, we need to look at ways at reducing or stopping routine pedestrian access across the bridge.
"Otherwise we're not going to have an effective way to manage what is a very difficult situation."
In March this year, National Highways (formerly Highways England) replaced Samaritan signs on the approach to the bridge, installed four new phones and closed the lay-bys either side of the bridge.
Simon Amor, National Highways head of planning, said: “Safety is our top priority and our thoughts and sympathies are with those struggling at the moment.
"Earlier this year we took steps to help save lives at the Orwell Bridge and we will continue to work closely with Suffolk Police, Suffolk public health groups, the Samaritans, and other local organisations in considering this difficult and sensitive issue.”
The Orwell Bridge Suicide Prevention Partnership, which is made of organisations such as Suffolk County Council, Suffolk police, National Highways, NSFT, Samaritans, and Suffolk User Forum, said: “As a partnership we are working together to do everything we can to encourage people to reach out for help and to promote support available in Suffolk, including to those affected by suicide.
“Our priorities are to support people at the earliest opportunity, to keep people safe and understand what we can do to make a difference by preventing suicide.
“Everyone in Suffolk can play their part by talking openly about their mental health and knowing that help is available.
"Free online training is available from the Zero Suicide Alliance that can help give people the knowledge and the confidence to talk to someone who might be at risk of or thinking about suicide."
Anyone who has affected by suicide and needs to talk to someone can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or via email here.