Emergency departments can help tackle community violence

December 14, 2000

Using injury data for violence prevention

Injury data derived from hospital emergency departments will be shared with the police as part of new government proposals to help tackle community violence. In this week's BMJ Jonathan Shepherd and colleagues look at how a medical perspective of violence, combined with the traditional police perspective, has already begun to reap rich rewards.

In the UK only about 25% to 50% of offences which lead to treatment in emergency departments appear in police records. Yet recording injuries treated in emergency departments has the potential for largely complete coverage of serious community violence and provides local information of importance to the police that will help them respond.

A recent pilot scheme in Cardiff, South Wales - giving emergency departments opportunities to share non-confidential data with the police and local authority - has focused policing on local violence hotspots, such as bars, nightclubs and public streets. As well as helping locally, this approach has identified and led to modifications of one of the most commonly used weapons in assaults in the UK - bar glasses.

Recent high profile cases of serious community violence emphasise that health care is often the only public service which knows about many violent offences, say the authors. If based on a sound ethical framework to protect the interests of patients, this approach should help to reduce the burden on emergency departments and is a rational step towards safer and more just communities, they conclude.

Jonathan Shepherd, Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff, UK
Email: shepherdjp@cardiff.ac.uk


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