THE number of people seriously injured after being stabbed has hit a new high in the Lothians, amid warnings the trend will only get worse.
New figures show the two major accident and emergency departments in the Lothians admitted 180 stab victims in the last year – a 15 per cent increase in a single year and almost double the number from four years ago.
Politicians today said tougher deterrents were needed to reverse the trend, while NHS Lothian’s top A&E doctor said the influx only added work to stretched medical teams.
The figures are believed to be the highest since records were made available in the late 1990s.
It also emerged that 226 ‘bed days’ are now taken up treating the victims of knife crime.
Dr Dave Caesar, clinical director of A&E at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and St John’s Hospital, said the increasing problem added to a staff already dealing with a rise in patients from 86,000 to 111,000 in eight years.
He said: “We have nursing staff that were provided for us based on our original numbers, and they haven’t changed much since those original numbers, so we are stretched pretty much every day of the week.
“There aren’t really any days when we’re not using our full capacity.”
Dr Caesar said knife crime victims and those attending hospital with them were often difficult to deal with and cause considerable disruption after arriving in A&E.
He said: “They can be difficult clinically to manage, they can be difficult behaviourally to manage and they do place a moderately significant burden on NHS services.
“There is a high chance that alcohol or other recreational substances have been involved, they can be upset and distressed because of injuries, because of any substance taken, and because of any alleged assault.
“That in itself can be as difficult as the actual underlying injury to deal with. We have to try to manage their behaviours, which absolutely impacts on the job the nurses and the medical staff have to do.”
Dr Caesar said, anecdotally, that victims were most commonly 16 and over, although a handful of victims have been between 13 and 16.
Asked whether the service will expect to deal with more incidents, he said: “We have to treat these patients on an expectant basis and clearly these numbers are relatively low compared to other areas of focus.
“I hope we don’t get into the stage where we have a routine process for dealing with them [knife victims]. We’re not at that stage yet.”
He added: “Knife crime was pretty rare when I first started A&E in 1998. It was a remarkably rare occurrence, and I think it is more common than then.”
Hospital admission figures, running up to this March, hit 180 in 2010/2011, up from 157 in 2009/2010.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has said the No Knives, Better Lives campaign had caused knife-carrying offences to drop by up to 35 per cent in the west of Scotland. However, Labour leader Iain Gray said the figures showed a possible complacency on the issue in the east.
He told the Evening News: “Kenny MacAskill foolishly described knife crime as only a problem in the west of Scotland three years ago. These figures just show how wrong and complacent he has been.
“It’s high time the Justice Secretary woke up to the grave toll knife crime is taking on our communities. This is a major problem and the SNP government has a duty to act.
“Last month we saw NHS Lothian are set to lose 400 more nurses. Mr MacAskill should appeal to his colleague Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon to play her part and act to stop these cuts now.”
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