THE Scottish Government's consultation on suicide prevention "has significant gap and lacks clarity" on key issues, mental health campaigners have warned.

Leading charities said efforts to reduce the number of people taking their own lives had "stalled" and "lost impetus", and criticised a lack of ring-fenced funding to support suicide prevention initiatives at local level.

In 2016, 728 people died by suicide in Scotland - an increase of eight per cent on the previous year and the first spike after six consecutive years of decline.

The Mental Welfare Foundation Scotland said it was "important that this increase does not turn into a trend".

It added: "It is disappointing that while mental health has taken a more prominent place on the political agenda over the past decade, suicide prevention has lost impetus and drive at both national and local levels. This has got to change."

That view was echoed by the charity SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) who questioned changes to the national suicide and self-harm prevention scheme, Choose Life.

It said the initial years of Choose Life "demonstrated that progress can be made in preventing suicides" but said that changes including a loss of ring-fenced funding "have undermined the strengths of the original programme".

SAMH added that its own research showed that nearly half of Scotland's 32 councils did not know, or failed to provide, details of their budgets and workforce for suicide prevention when asked in 2017.

SAMH stated: "It is particularly concerning at a time when other nations in the UK are replicating much of the initial Choose Life work, momentum in Scotland appears to have stalled.

"In England 95 per cent of local authorities in 2017 had a local suicide prevention plan or were actively developing one."The Mental Welfare Foundation Scotland added that local authorities "do not ring-fence suicide prevention in local spending plans" and their own freedom of information research revealed "a significant drop in spending on suicide prevention in a number of local authorities in recent years".

It added: "Continued improvement in the reduction of suicide relies on appropriate funding for suicide prevention, especially initiatives targeted at higher-risk groups, such as men and the most socio-economically disadvantaged."

Men account for three quarters of suicides. It is the biggest killer for men under 45. Suicide rates are also three times higher in the most deprived communities.

Both charities have submitted evidence ahead of a meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee on Tuesday, which will examine suicide prevention. It follows a consultation on the Scottish Government's new suicide prevention strategy, due to be published at the end of June.

The Mental Health Foundation Scotland said the consultation"has significant gaps and lacks clarity over fundamental issues", including the future of Choose Life.

SAMH welcomed a plans to expand suicide reviews to all deaths - not just those involving drugs or mental health patients - but called for a reversal of a June 2017 change which allowed health boards to submit summaries, instead of full suicide review reports, to Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

It said: "We do not see a clear rationale for this change and believe it could reduce the opportunities to learn from past suicides."

Launching the proposed strategy in March, public health minister Maureen Watt said it was important to listen to people affected by suicide and charities delivering support.

She added: "While the suicide rate in Scotland has fallen over the past decade, I want us to go further to prevent deaths."