Helpline surge after Street suicide

Burnley and Pendle Citizen: Hayley and Roy Cropper, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh and David Neilson, during a scene in which the characters discuss her right to die (ITV/PA) Hayley and Roy Cropper, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh and David Neilson, during a scene in which the characters discuss her right to die (ITV/PA)

The climax of Coronation Street's controversial right-to-die plot pulled in millions more viewers last night and prompted an increase in calls to The Samaritans.

A peak audience of 10.6 million viewers saw Hayley Cropper take an overdose after giving up her struggle with incurable cancer - two million more than last Monday's episode which peaked with 8.6 million viewers.

Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, who joined the soap in 1998 to play the Street's first transsexual, won the hearts of the nation with her on-screen romance with cafe owner Roy, played by David Neilson.

The Samaritans, who worked with ITV on developing the storyline, said c alls to its helpline went up by almost a third yesterday compared to the week before.

The charity's chief executive Catherine Johnstone said: " We are pleased that the Coronation Street production team acted responsibly by consulting with Samaritans about this controversial storyline.

"Our two decades of experience of advising the media about issues surrounding the portrayal of suicide led to Hayley's death and the devastation of her partner Roy being handled in a sensitive way.

"The inclusion of Samaritans' contact details at the end of the episode was helpful in encouraging those who were affected by the programme to get in touch.

"Our initial results show that calls to our helpline between 5pm yesterday and 5am this morning were 30% higher than during the same period last week, although these are only partial figures.

"While some of this increase may have been a result of the Coronation Street storyline, we are also aware that calls to Samaritans are heavier than usual at this time of year. January is a tough month for many people, with the bills from the Christmas and New Year holidays falling onto the doormat.

"There is also a tendency among some people not to focus on their problems over the festive season, but they will often be struggling with them again once the holidays are over."

The figures do not include people getting in touch via text or email.

The storyline is being played out as former lord chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton launches a bid to legislate on the controversial issue with his Assisted Dying Bill, which would enable terminally-ill patients to request assisted dying, subject to a range of safeguards.

Care Not Killing, a campaign group opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide, said the soap was "in great danger of normalising an occurrence that is actually very rare indeed".

But r ight-to-die campaigner Jane Nicklinson , whose husband Tony suffered from locked-in syndrome and died in 2012, said the show handled " such a sensitive subject well".

Mrs Nicklinson, who has continued the legal fight started by her husband, said: " You have done our cause proud. Brilliant performance. Nobody should have to suffer."

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