Page last updated at 01:25 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 02:25 UK

Hospitals 'could aid crime fight'

Knife
Violent crime is falling, according to figures

Hospitals should share data with police when patients are admitted because of a violent attack, a crime expert says.

Cardiff University's Professor Jonathan Shepherd said information on times, locations and weapons used could be anonymous to help identify hotspots.

They should also be willing to alert police about a violent person.

Doctors, who currently only need to report firearm injuries, said they were happy to share data, but had concerns about risking patient confidentiality.

Guidelines state that doctors should inform police where they treat patients with gunshot wounds.

It is not safe to assume that the most serious violence, including knife and gun violence, will have been reported
Professor Jonathan Shepherd, Cardiff University

The guidance does not cover other weapons, although this is now under review by regulators.

The medical profession has resisted any attempts to automatically alert authorities about violence as doctors believe it could deter people seeking treatment.

But Professor Shepherd said compiling anonymous data to share with crime reduction partnerships, with include a range of local partners including the police and council, could provide an invaluable service.

He told the British Medical Journal: "It is not safe to assume that the most serious violence, including knife and gun violence, will have been reported."

Such measures have already been piloted in parts of the UK, including Cardiff and the south of England.

And Professor Shepherd added: "I also think doctors need to consider alerting police immediately if they believe an attacker is on the loose even if that leads to identification [of a patient]."

It comes as the issue of violent attacks - and knife crime in particular - has dominated the headlines in recent weeks.

Although latest figures from both the British Crime Survey, which measures public experience of crime, and the police's recorded figures show violent crime is falling.

Wounds

Nonetheless, the numbers of assault-related admissions hospitals have been dealing with has still been rising and now stand at nearly 34,000 cases a year.

The British Medical Association said sharing anonymous data would be "a positive step".

But a spokeswoman added: "Doctors do not want to be compelled to identify patients by reporting all knife wounds.

"There has to be an element of flexibility which would allow doctors to act in their patient's best interests while protecting the public at large.

"We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where victims of knife crime are deterred from going to hospital because they fear they will be forced to name names."

A Department of Health spokesman said regional health bosses had been asked to look at what role the NHS has to play in helping police tackle violence.


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