A&E nurse clinician Rob Jackson sees the results of knife crime first hand - and tells young people all about it
Nurse clinician Rob Jackson has spent the last two years speaking candidly about the realities and effects of knife injuries on young people.
Armed with photographs and uncomfortable-looking medical equipment, he tours schools, youth organisations and young offenders’ institutes in and around Liverpool, teaching young people about the human cost of pulling a knife.
The Royal Liverpool Hospital emergency department, where he works, treats hundreds of knife-crime victims every year. Injuries cause fatalities and lifelong disability.
Thinking it would be a “waste of time” two years ago, Mr Jackson grudgingly accepted an offer to give a talk on the consequences of knife crime to a group of offenders at the local youth offenders’ team.
“I had this preconceived idea that they would just be a bunch of lads, beating their chests, grunting and showing no interest. I thought they wouldn’t care,” he recalls.
“Once I had given the talk, I was surprised at their positive reaction. Within the hour they began to interact with me, and engage with what I was saying.”
This positive response spurred him on. These young people had inflicted stab wounds or had been caught carrying knives, and here they were taking notes from a health professional.
Soon, Mr Jackson began visiting local secondary schools and youth groups.
He tells hard-hitting stories to provoke a response and sear the images into their memories: “Normally, it’s a couple of hundred kids in a school assembly, and at least 15-20 will walk out feeling light-headed. I’ve made kids vomit and faint, and that’s potentially good as it increases the impact of the presentation.”
Mr Jackson works full time in the emergency department, which lends weight to what he says.
“I can tell students what it looks like, what it smells like, the things you have to do when you’re trying to save someone’s life, how parents react when they are told that their son or daughter has been stabbed.
“The presentation is graphic but not gratuitous: I tell them the realities and the worst stories to drive the point home.”
Mr Jackson passes around colostomy and urostomy bags and a male catheter, and takes a set of chest spreaders along. He believes it reinforces the reality that knife injuries disable.
Engaging with offenders requires a different approach because 25-year-old seasoned offenders are, as Mr Jackson puts it, “harder to crack” than schoolkids.
“You try and have a conversation with them on their level,” he says. “You say: ‘A wound in your colon can mean you’ve got to carry your faeces around for the rest of your life.’ They tend to paraphrase it in their own language but still take it on board.”
Mr Jackson estimates he has spoken to more than 10,000 people, and believes that “although some will slip through the net, if we can get the majority to take notice that is fantastic.
“There’s always a minority who stay uninterested, but my tactic is to target those individuals and aim the stories directly at them until they pay attention.”
A high-profile talk last year was attended by former parliamentary front-bencher Alan Johnson. Sharing the platform was Toni Lappin, mother of Joseph, who was killed by a knife to the heart in 2009, aged 16.
There is now talk of making sure Mr Jackson has spoken at every school in the city, as well as of lobbying the Home Office to reproduce the scheme in other regions.
He has a template that other nurses can use, but says: “Whoever delivers the presentation has to be in that area of practice, and be able to relate to the people they are talking to.”
The number of casualties admitted with knife wounds at Royal Liverpool fell from 468 in 2009-10 to 336 in 2010-11. While there are other measures tackling knife crime, Mr Jackson’s work has made a significant inroad. As he says: “We are making a difference in Liverpool, and the statistics show that it’s working.”