London has already seen more than 21 young people die from knife-related injury.
Report authors (L to R) Carole Olding, James Olding and Kathy Fan
A new study from maxillofacial surgeons at King’s College Hospital (KCH) in south London found that in just one year 478 patients with penetrating trauma injuries were treated in ED (emergency department) – the highest number since comparable records began in 2010, when just 172 patients were recorded, and up almost 20% since the year before.
The findings come as the Prime Minister plans to host a major summit next week on knife crime. Experts and community leaders are expected at Downing Street on April 1 to explore ways to tackle the problem.
Of the 478 patients the hospital treated, 65 had penetrating trauma that involved the head or neck and the majority (82%) were male. The team found that interpersonal violence (IPV) caused the majority of injuries (54 cases/83%) they treated that included assault with knives, glass and firearms. The IPV group had an average age of 25, although the ages ranged from 13 to 70. And 50% of the injuries happened locally to King’s in the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.
The KCH study authors, Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon (OMFS) Kathy Fan, Maxillofacial Surgery Trainee James Olding and Lead Trauma Nurse Carole Olding, wanted to understand what is behind the dramatic rise in violent knife crime injury in south London. They collected data on all patients who attended the hospital ED with penetrating trauma to the head and neck over a one-year period (2016/17).
Report author James Olding said: “Working on-call and overnight in OMFS in one of London’s busiest trauma centres, I see more and more patients affected by violent trauma, including knife injuries. Traumatic injuries to the face are particularly devastating, both physically and psychologically. The face is socially the most important and visible part of the body.
“This is why I decided with my consultant Kathy Fan to carry out the study to see if the numbers and facts corresponded with my own experiences and observations.”
Co-author KCH Lead Trauma Nurse Carole Olding, who is also James Olding’s mother, sees the devastating effects that knife crime has on their victims, their families, the clinicians treating them and the wider community.
“It is not ‘OK’ for this to be happening to young people, and the cause and the resolution of this is complex. Stitching them up is easy but sending them back onto the streets where it happened with the scars you can see and those you can’t is difficult. How will they be next time they come in? That is the question you ask yourself.”
The study highlighted the diverse demographic mix affected by knife crime, and a wide range of weapons used that included: kitchen knives; nail guns; bottles; and even a samurai sword. While young males made up the vast majority of patients seen in at King’s, the report revealed a growing number of young women as well as a number of patients from older age groups, up to age 71.
James Olding said that strategies to address knife crime “require an understanding of who is affected, as well as the circumstances around each occurrence. So, I decided to look at the demographics, the geographic distribution, and the injury characteristics of patients with penetrating facial injuries”.
Senior author Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Kathy Fan agrees: “It is important to understand the cycle of violence and how to intervene in order to break the cycle, protect children and vulnerable adults, and prevent morbidity and mortality from such crime and violence.”