Scourge of knife crime ‘must be tackled’

The scourge of knife crime among young men “urgently needs to be tackled”, according to research into assault cases at one of the country’s busiest emergency departments.

The call comes as teenager Henry Newham recovers in hospital after being repeatedly stabbed in Westport, Co Mayo, on Saturday night.

The 17-year-old is in a stable condition, but surgeons had to remove his spleen. Three men in their late teens arrested in relation to the stabbing have been released without charge.

Research at St James’s Hospital has found that while the total number of assault cases treated at their emergency department had dropped (from 2,667 to 2,246) in the last six years, the number of knife-related assaults had remained unchanged (357 in 2005 and 362 in 2010).

The study, published in the Irish Medical Journal, shows that between 2005 and 2010, emergency staff dealt with:

*16,079 assaults, including 2,472 knife-related attacks, 15% of the total.

*87% of all assault patients were male, including 93% of knife victims.

*61% of all assault victims were under the age of 30.

*18% of those who died in hospital (73 in total) suffered knife wounds.

*Knife victims were three-and-a-half times more likely to need intensive care unit (ICU) care.

“The lack of a reduction in knife crime together with the greater need for ICU care and the higher in-hospital mortality rate among those victims of knife crime are a great concern and indicate there is an urgent need to tackle knife crime among young males,” said the report.

It said public health officials need to take a leadership role in ensuring national policies are developed. It said research showed a health approach — one that reduced risk factors such as alcohol and drug use — was more effective than a criminal justice approach.

The research found that head injuries was the main prognosis (63%). The most common type of assault was by bodily force (53%), knives (15%) and assault by blunt object (5%).

Males were the main victims of most assaults, apart from strangulations, which was more common among females (53% v 47%).

The research was carried out by Dr Anne O’Farrell and Dr Davida De La Harpe, of the HSE intelligence unit, and Dr Una Geary, consultant at St James’s.

It said alcohol misuse was recorded in 2,292 (14%) of in-patient cases, but said the quality of recording was variable and that there was a need to improve recording of alcohol and drugs.

The research comes as the first National Alcohol Awareness Week kicked off yesterday. Led by Alcohol Forum, the week will involve events around the country to raise awareness of harmful drinking.

Alcohol Forum, a national charity, said the country’s alcohol culture was of “epidemic proportions and dangerously harmful”.

Its chairman Pat Harvey said the legacy of harmful drinking on children was a “national scandal”.

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