The UK's knife crime epidemic is placing a huge strain on the NHS, England's leading trauma surgeon has said, as new figures reveal an alarming spike in the number of young stabbing victims.
Professor Chris Moran, the head of trauma for NHS England, said doctors and surgeons were battling to save younger and younger victims with increasingly severe injuries - a trend he described as "absolutely horrendous".
More than 1,000 young people, aged 10 to 19, were admitted to hospitals in England last year for stab wounds - a figure that has more than doubled since 2012, according to new figures released by NHS England.
The soaring admissions, Professor Moran said, was a severe pressure on hospital staff, beds, operating theatres and even blood supplies.
In a stark insight into the situation on the frontline, Professor Moran said it was becoming more common to treat a child caught up in a knife attack instead of a road accident as they left the school gates.
"The 4.30pm trauma call in the afternoon was often the child running out of school and being hit by a car but more recently it's a child who's been in a fight and been stabbed and that's a terrible place to be."
number of children aged 10 - 19 admitted to hospital with stab wounds last year
number of children of same age range admitted in 2012
the increase of young stabbing victims being treated in hospital between 2012 and 2018
It was not just the volume of cases but the gravity of the injuries causing real concern among trauma specialists, Professor Moran, who led the NHS response to the terror attacks in London and Manchester in 2017, said.
He blamed the continued use of so-called "zombie" knives, a banned weapon which carried devastating potential to maim and kill.
"We saw a young man who had been stabbed by one of these zombie knives," he recalled.
"He survived but his life has completely changed because of the severe damage caused. It's heartbreaking to see someone's life with his whole future ahead of him become wheelchair-bound."
Professor Moran, speaking after delivering a lecture to new junior doctors, said treating knife-inflicted injuries was now the top of the agenda during training for the latest wave of new recruits.
"Sadly, that's the reality we face at the moment,” he said.
And with no sign of the rising tide of knife crime being stemmed any time soon, those new recruits may also need to learn to start processing the emotion and trauma of seeing young lives lost or permanently tainted.
"Seeing young people die needlessly is heartbreaking for everybody and it does take its toll,” Professor Moran said.
"Breaking bad news is one of the worst parts of the job - it's never easy."