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RCN supports BMA call for knife crime to be treated as a public health issue

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RCN Lead for Public Health, Helen Donovan ‘Tackling knife as a public health issue has seen results in the UK and we welcome efforts to reduce something that is impacting so many lives,’ says the RCN's Helen Donovan

The Royal College of Nursing has supported the British Medical Association’s (BMA) call for the UK’s knife crime epidemic to be treated as a public health emergency. Speaking in response to a motion passed at the BMA’s Annual Representatives Meeting (ARM) in Belfast on Wednesday, RCN Professional Lead for Public Health, Helen Donovan said: ’Nurses see the tragic impact of knife crime every day of the week, not only on lives but also on health services.

‘Tackling this as a public health issue has seen results in the UK and we welcome efforts to reduce something that is impacting so many lives.’

In its motion, the BMA expressed ‘extreme concern’ at the growing presentation of knife crime in A&E departments, and pledged to ‘support the work of national charities and projects that aim to tackle this as a public health issue and acknowledges the role healthcare professionals have in tackling this issue alongside other government initiatives’.

Gurdas Singh, co-chair of the BMA Medical Students Committee said: ‘Knife crime is responsible for too many tragedies in our society with over 100 fatal stabbings across the UK so far in 2019. There are a plethora of sources that are often forgotten when tackling knife crime, from poverty to racial oppression to social deprivation.

'The seriousness of this issue has been recognised by the NHS with last week's appointment of the health service's first clinical director for violence reduction; a move welcomed by the BMA.’

But Ms Donovan also stressed the need for new thinking on violence reduction to be accompanied by more resources. ‘Nursing staff already have a key role in safeguarding patients, whether that’s working in the community, in schools or in hospitals. It is vital they are provided with support as well as resources to help those at risk,’ she told Independent Nurse.

‘For this to work, however, there does need to be investment. With nearly 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone nurses are already concerned about providing safe and effective care with such widespread staff shortages.’

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Violence reduction and in particular knife crime programmes have been demonstrated to work well in Glasgow. Regrettably London as well as other urban centres have all seen a dramatic rise in fatal stabbings and wounding over the past 18 months.

Legislation and sentencing has a major role in reducing the horrific catalogue of human damage but so too does intelligence led 'stop and search' by the police. A combination of 'immediate' education by volunteers working emergency departments and emergency nurses delivering the message in primary and secondary schools should be adopted - unfortunately this is not covered in the national curriculum and there is no health education funding attached to it.

In June 2019 it was suggested that inner city churches should open their doors as a 'safe refuge' for children on their way home from school. I hope that police, the judiciary, schools, youth groups and A&E nurses and doctors can draw on their combined expertise to help halt deaths and suffering associated with knife crime.

Mike Paynter
Consultant Nurse in Community Urgent Care
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