Nurses face new legal duty to spot ‘warning signs’ of knife violence

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.