The Leeds General Infirmary youth workers trying to stem the tide of knife violence

Amid growing concern about armed violence among young people, in 2021 a team of youth workers was deployed at Leeds General Infirmary to speak to victims of serious attacks. ITV Calendar News was given exclusive access to the hospital to see the team in action.

The first patient we visit has been attacked with a hammer.

He's a man in his 20s, who is still worried for his safety having been beaten so severely that he's on one of the major trauma wards at Leeds General Infirmary.

The clinician by his bedside telling him he's no longer in danger is not a medic, but a youth worker.

Over the past two years, Matt Guest and his team of youth workers, dubbed "NHS Navigators", have supported more than 1,000 young people who've been the victims of violent crime in Leeds. Demand for their services is growing.

"It’s getting kind of worse and worse at the moment," he tells me.

"The level of violence is quite surprising. It’s quite common for young people, when I go and see them on the ward, to be quite surprised they’ve been a victim of that level of violence. They’ll often say, 'I’ve been involved in fights in the past but I’d never stab someone'. And they’ve been the victim of the stabbing."

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust started employing youth workers in February 2021 to support the growing number of 11 to 25 year olds being admitted with horrific injuries.

Matt Guest and his team of NHS Navigators have supported more than 1,000 young people. Credit: ITV News

That pilot scheme, funded by West Yorkshire's Violence Reduction Partnership, was set up by Dr Najeeb Rahman, a consultant in emergency medicine.

"You get desensitised to what’s really going on here," he said. "Is it normal for a 17-year-old to take a machete to another 16-year-old? Is that acceptable for society? I think we’ve stopped questioning that sometimes.

"The drivers are ultimately deprivation and the lack of safe spaces for young people, they don’t have opportunities for training or engagement, they don’t have role models to aspire to.

"Eventually that vulnerability makes them exploited into gangs and they will get injured and they end up coming to hospital."

Those injuries are becoming more and more shocking. Among Matt's patients is a man who had suffered life-changing knife wounds that left him permanently disabled earlier this year but, like many of those Matt supports, he has been attacked once again.

Matt added: "If someone’s been referred to you, having been stabbed, and you fail for whatever reason to engage with them and then later down the line you find out they’ve been murdered or a victim of crime again there’s a feeling that you’ve potentially missed an opportunity... If you repeat the same pattern and nothing changes they end up with more serious injuries or, in the worst case scenario, getting killed."

As we film, there are 60 young people on his list of referrals, most of them are 15 or 16 year olds who have been assaulted or stabbed - some are in hospital, others are recovering at home.

The hospital trust hopes using youth workers to intervene with vulnerable young people, while they remain under medical supervision, can offer them a path towards safety and away from gang violence.

"I think they are getting younger. The youngest we've seen is 11," Dr Alice Downes, paediatric consultant in emergency medicine, added. "I’ve seen people whose arm has been literally taken off and put on a trolley, people are kneed, where there are slash injuries to knees and arms and that can be what we call a reachable moment, so I think that's really important for us to use that opportunity and it might be the only opportunity that young person gets for support."

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