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A&E nurses face new legal duty to spot 'warning signs' of knife violence


Hospital staff could in future be held legally accountable for “preventing and tackling” youth violence, under latest government plans.

The home secretary has started a consultation on giving organisations a legal “public health duty” to tackle serious violence among young people and spot the signs of a young person in danger.

“Violent crime is like a disease rotting our society and it’s essential that all public bodies work together to treat the root causes”

Sajid Javid

Sajid Javid said his plans would work to ensure that public bodies, including hospitals and schools, raised concerns about children at risk of becoming involved in knife crime across England.

However, the Royal College of Nursing responded by raising concerns over the new plans and questioned how adding a “further obligation” onto nursing staff would help to prevent crime.

The government said the home secretary’s approach was intended to help spot the warning signs of a young person being in danger, from presenting in an accident and emergency department with a suspicious injury, to worrying behaviour at school or issues at home.

According to the government, similar approaches have been used across Scotland and Wales. They are designed to ensure every part of the system works together to support young people and to create targeted interventions before they commit violence or are groomed by gangs, said the government.

The joined-up duty could also see organisations funding early intervention services together, to improve co-ordination, and would be backed up by legislation to ensure professionals in the public sector, including hospital staff, were held accountable for preventing and tackling youth violence.

The consultation comes as part of the serious youth violence summit, which is being hosted by the prime minister this week.

It will bring together representatives from health, law enforcement, the voluntary sector and education to discuss a new multi-agency approach on delivering long and short-term solutions for preventing serious violence.

Mr Javid said: “Violent crime is like a disease rotting our society and it’s essential that all public bodies work together to treat the root causes.

“The public health, multi-agency approach has a proven track record and I’m confident that making it a legal duty will help stop this senseless violence and create long-term change,” he said.

“I’m committed to ending this scourge and will use all the tools at my disposal to do so,” added Mr Javid.

Donna Kinnair

Dame Donna Kinnair

Donna Kinnair

Acting RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “With almost 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone, nurses are already concerned about providing safe and effective care with such widespread staff shortages.

“Nursing staff already have a key role in safeguarding patients, whether that’s working in the community, in schools or in hospitals and it’s unclear how putting a further obligation on our members, already working incredibly hard to do all they can for patients, will prevent violent crime,” said Dame Donna.

She warned that it was “important that barriers aren’t placed in front of people seeking healthcare” as part of the new approach.

“The first duty of healthcare workers is to treat and care for patients, and it’s important people aren’t deterring from seeking help for fear of being reported,” she said.

The consultation on a new legal duty to support the multi-agency public health approach opens today to both professionals and the public across the UK and will last for eight weeks before the government makes a decision.


Readers' comments (8)

  • This would put pressure on A & E units, they are so busy as it is. If a person as a knife warned and know they will be question at the hospital they may not go then the injury will not be treated.

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  • Too much pressure on overworked nursing staff.

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  • This is the Police's job already. Police officers are trained and given protective equipment to deal with violent offenders. If hospital staff start questioning patients about any involvement in knife crime, antagonised patients could feel threatened and defensive. This could culminate in staff being resented and then targeted. Javid needs to back off. If I wanted to do police work, guess which career I would have taken (clue: the word begins with P; then finishes with OLICE).

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  • This is rich HMRC couldnt/wouldnt provide MI5 with information that funded terrorist attacks.

    Expecting overworked hospital staff to do the police's AND governments job is not dealing with the problem.

    It also shows a complete lack of understand about the NHS work force crisis and our well paid leaders should shoulder the blame for that.

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  • so are nurses now expected to:

    A&E- conduct full body searches of patients (relatives/ friends) in triage! conduct an interview into the incident history, take witness statements, photograph, fingerprint "persons of interest" and then pass this information onto the police ?

    Community - Are school nurses now expected to report any pupil/student they suspect is a gang member (or suspect is vulnerable to be so in the future).

    Are health visitors now required to report any child they fear may well in the future become "radicalized" or lives in a "gang area" ?

    I could go on and on, but I won't, my suggestion to the Home Secretary is to put 50,000 more Special constables and support officers out on foot (the beat) working with community groups, youth groups, schools etc.

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  • I signed up and trained to be a Nurse not a Police Officer. When we are given the staff and funding to enable us to do the jobs we trained for then I might consider a proposal like this, not very seriously I admit, but untill then NO. Maybe the Politican suggesting this and his colleagues would like to try working in an A&E department for a month on shifts and see how he likes it. I and many more like me have been assaulted at work in unprovoked attacks during my carear mainly while working in A&E so yes we would love knife crime etc to be stopped but we are in no real position currently to even consider it as part of our roles.Another misguided misinformed person who has no or a strange view of what we as Health Workers do and cope with on a daily basis.

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  • Another pathetic idea from headline-grabbing politicians! There is a problem, get nurses to deal with it. People from abroad not paying for their care, nurses can do it, knife crime, nurses can do it, terrorism, nurses can do it. I believe the next proposal is for us to fix the housing shortage by taking in the homeless and building houses on a day off! The only legal responsibility if they want one should be the treating doctor must notify police if a knife wound is treated the same for a gunshot. The police can then investigate. Or pay us Detective pay.

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  • I think the expectation is that nurses must be superhuman. Of course if knife crime is suspected the information is passed on to the appropriate authorities, However, our job is to treat illness and alleviate pain. We are not the police, we are not responsible for tackling crime.

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