Knives and hospitals

Well, I’m just back from a holiday so I missed some news and haven’t posted here for a while. While I was away, though, I listened to a fair bit of radio news and so am well informed about this year’s moral panic, knife crime. Now don’t get me wrong – knives, guns and murder are definitely bad, AND there’s an issue re. young people and violence, but it’s been around for a while, but now it’s a London thing then it really hits the news (see this from 2003 for context).

Anyway, the bit that’s got my goat is today’s story about putting young criminals on projects where they’d find out about the impact of knife crime. A good bit of restorative justice? Not once the politicians and media and assorted experts have put their tuppence worth in.

According to the BBC’s PM programme today, a press release saying that young criminals would have to go to A&E to see the effects of stabbing, AND meet the families of victims (see here for quotes from the original press release), was translated by the media and the opposition to mean they’d be dragged around wards meeting stab victims in their hospital beds. A controversy was made from nothing and the government is now sounding apologetic for what was a good idea.

The Beeb, of course, played its part, interviewing Donald MacKechnie, clinical vice-president of the College of Emergency Medicine and letting him, with little challenge, say:

“When someone is brought in having been stabbed or assaulted with a knife, it’s a very emotive situation. Doctors and nurses first of all have got to assess the injuries and then manage those injuries,” he said.

“We certainly don’t think it would be a good idea if then potential or actual perpetrators of knife crime were marched through to see these patients, who are in an extremely vulnerable state.

“It’s tantamount to secondary victimisation of someone who has already suffered a horrendous insult to them. From a practical point of view, working in an A&E department, it’s very difficult to see how this would work.” (from the Guardian)

This gives the impression that the first person you’d see after waking up from a life-saving operation would be a smiling hoodie flanking by two coppers. Not likely.

Mackechnie is either an idiot or playing faux naive for political point scoring. Anyone working in the criminal justice, health, or even the public sector as a whole would know that:

a) you’d be having to get consent from all involved first

b) there’d be a whole load of risk assessment work first

c) it would be as part of a project or programme, with plans for getting the activity to work well around the other stuff

and so on and so on. It would most likely be a walk through and a focus group. The kids would be given a walk through the A&E area, getting some stats from the people on the desk, and some horror stories of the worst case scenarios. Then imagine one room, eight lads convicted of knife crime, four victims showing off their wounds, a mum and dad, some probation officers, and a surgeon who’d say ‘if it was an inch to the left, this lad would be dead, and the other would be a lifer’.

Allowing media/experts/politicians to ruin a good idea for point scoring, before the idea has even been fleshed out is no way to run a country. But that’s because a soundbite (or what they call a ‘quick win’) can easily be presented as ‘half-baked’.

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