Children as young as 11 are part of an “exponential rise” in victims of gang violence requiring life-saving treatment, London’s busiest major trauma centre has revealed.
About a quarter of the 2,500 cases handled by the specialist unit at St Mary’s hospital are patients aged 11 to 25. Last year it saw almost as many young victims of stabbings, shootings and beatings with a blunt weapon (170) as those injured in road collisions (200).
The figures were revealed as St Mary’s today set out plans to “embed” youth workers in its trauma unit for three years to help young people escape from gangs.
A pilot project at King’s College hospital found that victims of gang culture are most likely to be swayed during the “teachable moment” when their presence in hospital brings home the risks they face.
John Poyton, chief executive of Redthread youth charity, which runs the schemes, said: “The moment young people are injured, they suddenly realise they’re not immortal. They realise they’re vulnerable.
“It’s the one time when the kids are able to remove that mask of bravado, and they’re much more honest with themselves. A young person can be laid on a bed scared witless. It’s a window of opportunity.”
Last year the major trauma centre – one of four in London – was treating an average of 11 serious stabbings and one shooting each month.
St Mary’s has seen the total number of cases handed at its major trauma centre increase from 1,932 between April 2011/March 2012 to 2,242 the following year to 2,610 between April 2013/March 2014.
Medics reported an increase in “humiliation wounds”. Dr Asif Rahman, a consultant in paediatric emergency medicine, said: “At the Notting Hill Carnival, we had a lot coming in with buttock wounds.”
“Hundreds” of patients were victims of gang-related sexual violence and exploitation. Dr Rahman said: “We are seeing more and more attendances to A&E of people who are victims of violent crime. It’s a big problem. We see lots of people in their pre-teens who are involved in violence. Some of our patients, at 11 years old, have been involved in some form of gang violence.”
The largest proportion of the hospital’s gang cases were from Brent – 28 per cent – followed by 19 per cent from Kensington and Chelsea and 15 per cent from Ealing.
The £648,000 project is funded by Imperial College Healthcare Charity and the Home Office. Crime prevention minister Norman Baker told me: “I would like to see this become standard practice across the NHS because I think it works.
“The idea you can get to somebody at a moment when they are prepared to listen to you, and stop them being involved in potentially damaging behaviour to themselves, has got to be good.
“The evidence is this sort of work is far more effective than the traditional method of the police trying to hand out fines or prosecute.”