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Tackling knife crime is a government responsibility – leave nurses to deal with its aftermath

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The home secretary’s plan to make hospital staff legally accountable for “preventing and tackling” youth violence has sparked much discussion within the nursing profession this week.

Those working on the frontline have taken to social media to express their concerns about what this means for nurses.

Some asked what training would be put in place following Sajid Javid’s proposal, and whether staff would receive some form of extra protection.

One nurse commenting on the story asked why no one is yet held “legally accountable” for understaffing across the profession. Others suggested that the answer to preventing violent crime didn’t just lie in the hands of nurses, but instead in funding strategies to tackle unemployment, social inclusion programmes and inequalities in education – to name a few.

“Some in the profession are wondering why this should become part of a nurse’s job description”

Mr Javid announced a consultation on giving organisations a legal “public health duty” to spot the signs of a young person in danger. As part of this, public bodies, including hospitals and schools, could become legally responsible for raising concerns about children at risk of becoming involved in knife crime across England.

But some in the profession are wondering why this should become part of a nurse’s job description.

The Royal College of Nursing was among the first to raise concerns.

Acting RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair pointed out that nursing staff already play a key role in safeguarding patients.

She said it was “unclear how putting a further obligation” on nurses will help to prevent violent crime.

Dame Donna also 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.

This sparked a conversation in my own household when watching the news on Monday evening.

If the public are aware of this potential new legal duty on nurses, will this prevent people coming in to be treated?

When going to hospital you assume some kind of patient-confidentiality agreement, but under the home secretary’s plan could this be jeopardised?

“I hope the home secretary will address concerns raised by those on the frontline”

And the nurse-patient relationship is not the only consideration. As previously reported by Nursing Times, accident and emergency departments are busy places in which nursing staff barely have time to take a break, so where will time for this additional duty be factored in?

I understand that awareness of the signs that a young person is in danger of violence could help to protect the patient from future harm. But branding this a “public health duty” and making nurses legally responsible for reporting concerns is another thing entirely.

I hope the home secretary will address concerns raised by those on the frontline when the consultation concludes in eight weeks’ time. Pushing responsibility onto an already overstretched profession will not solve the problem of youth violence but could jeopardise nurses’ ability to do their jobs safely and effectively.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Alison Cann

    I agree that it is not the duty of health professionals to report concerns unless there is a clear threat. If nurses and other staff are expected to do this, we will lose the confidence of victims and they will likely avoid coming to A&E, as they do in the states. Worried people with fight injuries will go to charlatan back street services, risking death when they don't realise how dangerous a wound can be. Please, we must put care first. It is not our responsibility to solve the complex issues of poverty, drugs and gang warfare.

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