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"We’ve made it through January – one of the most depressing times of the year. Many of us have already broken our earnestly made New Year resolutions. We’ve sadly regained the pounds we lost on our early January health kick. Our shiny new gym memberships gaze mockingly at us from our wallets – unused this week.
But one of the most worryingly and sadly predictable January woes is the yearly winter crisis that hits our NHS – a crisis that now seems to extend throughout the rest of year. Politicians across the spectrum bicker about how much money has or has not gone into one of our most important public services. The frontline staff and clinicians are heroically just about coping as they – like our staff – are not ones to ever let someone down.We are extremely proud to be working in partnership with Barts NHS Trust at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. Our two caseworkers from our SOS Project work alongside clinical staff to help young victims of knife crime and serious violence who have been admitted to the hospital.
This work has been driven by an inspirational trauma surgeon – Dr Martin Griffiths – who was saddened and frustrated at seeing the same young men return to his operating table. Dr Griffiths and his team offered expertise and brilliant care to treat the physical wounds but the environmental and emotional factors which put the young men in hospital in the first place remained unaddressed. This is why he brought us in.
The young stab or shooting victims lying in hospital are in a conundrum. Despite the relative safety of a ward, they are scared about what will be facing them when they are discharged back onto the street. They will not disclose the details surrounding what led to their situation to anyone in a uniform or white coat. But our staff are different as they have been there themselves and it is not easy to pull the wool over their eyes.They make contact with the young patients at a crucial time when they are recovering after having seen their lives flash before their eyes. As ex-offenders who have empathy with their situations, they are positive role models who offer caring and non-judgemental help to address issues such as housing, employment. They advocate for the young person in dealing with people they are often very wary of but need to talk to - local authorities, police and probation. They ensure that the young person is not discharged into the same situation that they were in when they entered hospital.
A quick glance at the Evening Standard’s headlines will tell you that the team are very busy as level of weapons crime and serious youth violence has spiked. But their work is having a very impressive impact – out of 400 patients helped by the team the re-admission rate had been reduced from 45% to 1%. That’s up to 176 stabbings possibly prevented and lives potentially saved.
These are young lives and positive futures that have been saved. And prevention is always cheaper than the cure - by adopting an emotionally intelligent and smart approach, the Royal London have saved the NHS money at a time when resources for it are scarce.
There are increasing calls from surgeons in our inner cities to treat knife crime as a public health issue and not simply one of enforcement. Tougher sentences for knife possession introduced in 2015 have not had deterred young people from carrying them. A response that addresses root causes is what we are offering at the Royal London.
We all need to take responsibility for ourselves and relieve the NHS – be it re-engaging with that healthy lifestyle we took up on January 2nd or helping out vulnerable people who are less fortunate with their health than we are. But with added funding for the work we do with Dr Griffiths and his team we would prevent future knife and weapon attack victims entering hospital - and free up resources for hospital staff to carry out their daily work of saving lives for us all. How many more people need to die before sanity prevails and just a trickle more funding is made available to services like this so hundreds more lives can be saved – and in that same breath millions of pounds be saved."Rob Owen OBE