Rising number of young knife victims a 'major concern' for doctors

Saturday 9th February 2019 04:30 GMT

Admissions for all injuries caused by assault with a knife or similar weapon have gone up by almost a third since 2012-13, from 3,849 to 4,986 last year.

The number of admissions of children and teenagers has increased almost twice as fast however, with 1,012 10 to 19-year-olds admitted in the year to March 2018.

People aged 20-29 accounted for more than 1,900 episodes of consultant care, an increase of 24% since 2012-13, and cases involving under-30s accounted for 60% of admissions.

The figures are further evidence that knife crime is reaching epidemic proportions among the young, and increasing numbers of victims are children.

Earlier this week it was revealed that the number of stabbing deaths in the year to March 2018 was the highest since records began in 1949, with 285 people killed. Overall knife crime was up 8% in the year to September.

While these statistics include assaults with weapons other than a knife, and the number of admissions does not equate directly to the number of individuals injured, teenagers and children are disproportionately affected by knife crime.

It is this impact on the young that most troubles NHS staff working in trauma units who now routinely treat stabbing victims on a daily basis.

Trauma surgeon Martin Griffiths, who works at England's largest A&E department at the Royal London Hospital, says he expects to treat two stabbing victims a day.

"In practice what has changed is that we are seeing a lot more young people and adolescents who have severe injuries. That used to be an occasional occurrence and that is now the norm. I expect to admit someone of school age this week as a matter of course."

Mr Griffiths is one of the leading proponents of treating knife crime as a public health issue rather than simply a criminal problem, and with Barts Health NHS Trust, of which Royal London is a part, has developed methods of working with injured youngsters to try to end the cycle of violence.

Working with charity the St Giles Trust they have managed to reduce readmission of victims who suffer subsequent assaults from 45% to less than 1%.

"In our service at Bart's Health in conjunction with St Giles' Trust we have fantastic success in reducing retaliation and readmission with our patients," Mr Griffiths said.

"But there is no doubt we have to address the root causes of violence which start in childhood. We need to do work in society and in the community in developing resilient relationships, communication skills, aspiration and providing resource to allow people to be diverted away from bad choices."

The NHS is calling for tougher action against retailers who break the law by selling knives to people under 18.

Professor Chris Moran, national clinical director for trauma at NHS England, said: "Hospital visits linked to knife crime and other violence is a major cause for concern and puts extra pressure on our expert staff.

"Far too many young people are able to buy knives on the high street, and we need councils and retailers to work together to stop this."

The public health approach to tackling knife crime is backed by Mark Prince, a campaigner whose 15-year-old son Kiyan was killed in 2006 after he tried to break up a fight outside his school.

He said: "We have take a public health approach. We have to reform our youth services. We have to create more opportunities for employment.

"We have to start utilising the communities and the organisations in the communities - having them well-funded so they can do the work.

"We have to start boosting the support for the school system because that looks like it is under pressure and failing young people."

Paediatrician Dr Gayle Hann, of North Middlesex Hospital, says hospitals can play a bigger role by intervening with injured youngsters.

"Stitching them up and putting them back on the streets - I'm seeing the same faces coming back. Therefore, we have to do something and as a hospital we have been going out in the community.

"I'm involved in knife crime prevention, going out to schools, parents and the police to talk. It's a whole system approach. We can't just sit in our silos."

The recently published NHS Long Term Plan for the health service set out improvements to emergency care and aims to build on the work of major trauma centres, introduced in 2012.

These centres are credited with saving the lives of around 1,600 more people who suffered severe and complicated injuries.

Last week, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced plans for new knife crime prevention orders that could be imposed on suspects aged 12 or over.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We are very concerned about the increase in knife crime and its devastating consequences.

"Our serious violence strategy sets out the action we are taking to tackle this, which includes a greater focus on early intervention, alongside strong enforcement.

"The government is also seeking to amend the Offensive Weapons Bill to introduce new knife crime prevention orders which will focus on preventing vulnerable young people from becoming involved in knife crime. We will also be taking further action against retailers found to be selling knives to children."

Now On Air
Coast FM Gold with Nick Dent
Nick Dent, eases you into the weekend at 8am on Saturday with Coast FM Gold, four hours of music and memories - radio like it used to be