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Surgeons and police to work together on reducing knife crime harm

16 November 2010

Surgeons and police officers are set to work together in a joint bid to reduce the 4,600 hospital admissions in England each year due to knife assaults. A joint statement will be announced at the first ever surgical/policing conference on the topic and is expected to include a ground-breaking agreement between the professions to integrate health into crime and violence reduction. 

The conference, entitled The Management of Knife Injuries, organised jointly by the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland [ASGBI] and the Metropolitan Police Service, will offer a direct call to action to spread the best of techniques to both prevent crime and reduce the harm of injuries. Key areas where surgeons could contribute more effectively to help prevent these crimes happening and reducing the harm caused when they do include:

  • Working in the community to help prevent injuries: the conference looks at how surgeons can play a practical role alongside community organisations and charities to provide education to at-risk groups, particularly young people, on the long-term chronic health effects of surviving knife injuries. The conference will hear of a new pilot schools programme for 11-13 year olds featuring surgeons and police officers now underway in South London.
  • Improving information sharing: by logging and sharing anonymous data such as location, time, patient demographics and weapon type used in assaults, medical teams can help identify where high profile policing can be most effective in preventing injuries. 
  • Targeted stab injury training for surgeons and roll out of regional trauma centres: medical techniques for dealing with penetrating, sharp injuries are very different from the ‘blunt’ injuries which make up most of the surgical workload in local hospitals. Specific training and sending patients to the right units will improve outcomes.

Experts say improving information sharing will enable better identification of areas deemed high-risk and provide more targeted and effective social services and policing. Meanwhile nearby hospitals can ensure that specially trained surgeons are available to treat the complex, life-threatening injuries caused by knives.  

The Department of Health has already helped more than a hundred hospitals across the UK to start logging details of violence injuries and contribute to community safety partnerships. Now the government wants to see more NHS Trusts to follow suit and to improve the sophistication of information gathered and how it is used. Public Health Minister Anne Milton said: "Health professionals treat victims of knife crime, and the intelligence they gain can and should be shared with police to prevent further crime and serious injuries to innocent people. Over 100 hospitals are already doing this, so by April next year we want to see all hospitals in England sharing anonymised data with police.

“We have invested over £700,000 in the NHS to provide practical support to help this to happen. Violent crime devastates lives and destroys communities. By working together in this way, I am confident that we can reduce violent crime and make all our communities safer."

The ASGBI has a national network with lead surgeons in every UK hospital to spread the approaches agreed at the conference. Mike Horrocks, President of the ASGBI, said: “Thankfully, treating stab wounds remains a relatively small part of the surgical workload in most local hospitals. The roll-out of regional trauma centres currently going ahead in England should help, but surgeons working in these centres must have access to the best possible training and resources to deal with the horrific injuries caused by knives. We are talking about complex and unpredictable injuries which require the attention of specially trained medics. If we can map out where and when these assaults are likely to happen we can make sure that staff are available in the right place at the right time.”

The Metropolitan Police Service is working with partners towards setting up a multi-partner London Anti-Violence Board to build upon and coordinate responses from the various agencies to violence and the many under-lying problems.  Part of this joint working will include sharing data and intelligence as well as effective problem solving to deter people from carrying weapons.

Assistant Commissioner Ian McPherson, the head of the Met’s Territorial Policing Command, said: “I welcome this opportunity to work with the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland to look at the best ways that we can work together to prevent knife crime and injuries. We, as a police force, are committed to targeting violent offenders and seeking justice for their victims. However, we recognise that we cannot win this battle alone and will only be able to make a real difference by working with partners to find long-term solutions.”

Association of Chief Police Officers [ACPO] lead on tackling knives and serious youth violence, Assistant Chief Constable Sue Fish said: “We very much welcome this move by the medical profession, which is a significant step towards integrating health into crime and violence reduction. Violent crime has a devastating impact on victims, their families and communities, and while the police service is committed to reducing serious violence, it is clear that we cannot achieve this through law enforcement alone.
“The sharing of anonymised accident and emergency data with police forces and community safety partnerships is invaluable in identifying violent crime hot spots, and ensuring effective targeting and use of resources. It allows for a more complete picture of problem areas, as violent incidents are often not reported to the police. Such information sharing arrangements have already been used to good effect, and it is hoped that this consensus agreement will provide impetus for more areas to adopt the same approach. We look forward to working in partnership with hospitals to continue to reduce the harm caused by violence, and increase protection in our local communities.”

Brooke Kinsella, an anti-violence campaigner who recently produced a report on knife crime for the Home Office, said: “I think it's brilliant that surgeons and police officers are joining forces to battle the issue of knife crime. The impact of this has the potential to save so many lives - by sharing information, identifying problem areas and helping the public to understand further the devastating consequences of knife crime. One of the most effective projects I saw on my tour as a Government ambassador was a module delivered by an A&E nurse, and the young people took so much more in, knowing it was all completely true and unexaggerated. If as many surgeons could contribute their expertise in this area as possible, hopefully change can be made.”

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Notes to Editors
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