THE 14-year-old boy in A&E has clearly been stabbed.
There is no doubt about it among the team treating him, but the teenager refuses to tell the truth.
Staff at St Thomas’ Hospital in London are seeing the direct effect of the knife crime epidemic – last year, there were 252 blade related deaths[/caption]
With medical staff required to report incidents such as this, young knife crime victims often concoct unconvincing stories.
Paediatric consultant Dr John Criddle says: “We have a duty to notify police for serious injuries. That can put young people off talking to a doctor or nurse. He told us he’d fallen on broken glass, but we can always tell when the story is not quite right.”
It’s something Dr Criddle, clinical lead of the children’s emergency department at central London’s St Thomas’ Hospital, is seeing regularly as a knife crime epidemic sweeps across Britain.
Latest crime figures released yesterday revealed the UK murder rate has hit a ten-year high, with two homicides daily last year and more than 100 stabbings.
But with a waiting room full of patients — around 27,000 children pass through the department’s doors each year — hospital staff often don’t have time to get to the bottom of how youngsters got their injuries.
Dr Shalini Panchal, an A&E consultant at St Thomas’, says: “We try to gather as much information as we can, but they’re often cagey and scared you’re going to tell the police.”
A LASTING LEGACY
The case of the teenage boy bears a striking resemblance to a 15-year-old lad treated for minor injuries by the team in 2008 after being stabbed in the leg. A few weeks later he was fatally stabbed.
Dr Criddle says: “It got me thinking if there was more we could do to stop this serious spiral of knife crime.”
Today, that boy’s legacy is three full-time youth workers based at St Thomas’.
In the case of the teen who claimed to have hurt himself on glass, Dr Criddle was able to refer him to a youth worker.
The medic recalls: “The story came out that he was known to the police. We were able to work with social services and get him moved out of the area where he was living quite quickly because he was at very high risk of escalating violence.
“I was able to deal with his medical problem, the youth worker was able to engage with him and we were covering all bases. We didn’t just patch him up and send him home. We made a difference to a young person’s life.
“You only need one case like that every few weeks to make an impact.”
The service is funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. The youth workers, provided by the charity Oasis Waterloo, are on hand to speak to any 12 to 24-year-olds admitted to the department due to knife wounds, violent assaults or self- inflicted injuries.
We didn’t just patch him up and send him home. We made a difference to a young person’s life.
When I visit the hospital the waiting room is a mixture of scared, upset and fed-up patients. But in one cubicle a teenage boy breaks into a smile as he engages in a light-hearted debate with youth support worker Dwain Allen about biscuits and the latest Marvel film.
Dwain tells me: “I’ll ask them how they are, what they’re into. It breaks that wall down and helps them to calm down.”
For the paediatric knife crime team, their busiest time isn’t weekends but weekday afternoons.
Dr Criddle, a Paediatric consultant, believes that ‘the earlier you can intervene with a young person, the easier it is to get a positive effect’[/caption]
A&E consultant Dr Shalini Panchal tells how young people are afraid to admit they’re been stabbed for fear it will be reported to the police[/caption]
Dwain Allen is a youth support worker and finds that asking how young people are, finding what they’re interested in, helps to break down that wall[/caption]
Dr Panchal explains: “The peak time is after school, when they’re on their way home. It’s usually fights between one or more individuals. It can be one-on-one or one versus 20. Often it’s because of something someone’s said on social media and it escalates.”
In the week I visit, Dwain says one youngster was attacked with a baseball bat “for talking to someone in another borough”.
As St Thomas’ isn’t a major trauma centre, staff often treat much younger victims. Dr Criddle says: “I’ve seen youngsters as young as 12 involved in knife crime. We see a lot of lower- level violence and assaults too.”
The doctors find young people are generally admitted to A&E three times on average before their major stabbing.
Dr Criddle says: “The earlier you can intervene with a young person, the easier it is to get a positive effect.”
Youngsters are often groomed to carry drugs and weapons by older children and adults in their neighbourhood. The grooming can start with something as simple as a £2 chicken and chips meal.
Dwain’s boss Tom Isaac tells me of a 12-year-old boy forced to hide knives at home by older boys on his estate.
The earlier you can intervene with a young person, the easier it is to get a positive effect.
The youth support manager explains: “Due to his age he’s less likely to be on the police’s radar. They see older drug dealers in the area as role models, with all this money and respect.”
But Oasis’s head of youth services Stuart Thomson says the reality is very different, with a 17-year-old who’d been jailed and nearly died twice admitting he earned just £50 a week.
Stuart says: “While young people see all the glitz and glamour of those drill videos, he’s sofa-surfing and living off £50 a week. People think it’s a big money thing. Part of what the team does is to address that.”
As well as working in St Thomas’, the team goes into the community to support young people. A weekly youth club is held at the charity’s offices near
Waterloo for 11 to 16-year-olds. Stuart says: “Tonight we’ve probably saved the police a minimum of £10,000 because these 45 young people aren’t out causing crime or negativity and therefore not using valuable police resources.”
Every murder costs society £3.2million, according to Home Office figures, including police and judicial costs. Stuart says: “The average A&E treatment cost per stab victim is £8,000. What Tom and his colleagues do costs £21.65 a week. If we put the right support in early enough, we save the system a lot at the other end.”
While young people see all the glitz and glamour of those drill videos, he’s sofa-surfing and living off £50 a week.
I meet John, 24, who is surely testament to this. He came into A&E some years ago when his cousin was stabbed on the way home from college. John, who was with his cousin when he was attacked, says: “Before that, the same guy stabbed our friend and my cousin punched him to try to stop him.
“The stabbing was revenge for punching him. He stabbed him six times. He ended up in intensive care and was in hospital for two weeks. We were threatened by his friends for reporting it to police. We had to be moved out of the area to keep us safe.”
Now, with Tom’s support, he is a teaching assistant and is trying to turn the kids at his school away from knife crime.
He says: “I suppose I’m a role model. I can relate to them.”
MOST READ IN NEWS
Tom also introduces me to Cameron, 18, who he has been mentoring since he was brought into A&E with concussion last year after being attacked with a machete for refusing to fight another boy at college.
He says he would never carry a weapon himself but adds: “It’s normal for young people to carry knives these days.”
Dr Criddle says their approach can turn young people’s lives around. He says: “We help them to make better life choices, get them back into school, do something positive so they’re not bored, running straight into gangs or getting involved in drugs.”
Oasis’s head of youth services Stuart Thomson thinks that part of the problem is that young people believe in the glitz and glamour of drill videos[/caption]
Working in the same team is Tom Isaac who says he would never carry a knife himself but that ‘it’s normal for young people to carry knives these days’[/caption]
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