Serious knife injuries are increasing, say trauma experts at the Royal London Hospital in a letter to this week's BMJ.
Several recent deaths have fuelled the perception that forensic knife injuries have become an epidemic, resulting in a knife amnesty and government discussion of new punitive measures, write Charles Knowles and colleagues.
An increase in such injuries is supported by data from regional police forces and the Home Office, with 1200 reported attacks in London last year and 30% of homicides caused by knife injury. Crimes defined as "more serious wounding or other act endangering life" almost doubled nationally from 1995 to 2005.
The authors audited knife injuries at their east London hospital, one of Europe's busiest emergency departments, to establish the size of this problem in a representative urban area.
They analysed data on forensic knife injuries (excluding deliberate self harm) from a database of all trauma calls from July 2004 to June 2006. Overall there were 309 forensic knife injuries; 259 patients were admitted, 184 were operated on, and eight died. The chest was the most common area injured, most patients were men, and mean age was 28.
To give a measure of changing incidence over a longer time, they also performed an audit of all cases coded as "stabbing" during the 10 year period from July 1997 to June 2006.
Over both periods, the data show an increase in the overall incidence of stabbings. The increased need for surgical intervention may also reflect increasing severity of injury, they say.
These data therefore seem to support the general perception that knife injuries are increasing, they conclude.