An innovative scheme driven by the Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) is being piloted in A&E departments in Essex to help break the cycle of violence surrounding drugs and gangs.

A proportion of around £660,000 allocated by the Home Office to the PFCC is being used to fund youth workers embedded in the emergency departments at Basildon and Southend hospitals, in a bid to reach out to victims of knife or even gun crime at a “teachable moment” to help them turn their lives around.

The scheme, which has been running for less than two weeks, is part of a wider plan for the development of a partnership strategy for violence and vulnerability in Essex.

Greg Myddelton, assistant director for the commissioning office of the PFCC for Essex, said: “The Red Thread model, which has been up and running in London for a couple of years, was part of our bid to the Home Office.

“We suggested  to pilot that in Basildon and Southend hospitals.

“Basildon were already having conversationa with Red Thread so we chose that because it was seen to be easy for us to jump on board.  

“But in the end we changed the model slightly because Red Thread were asked to deliver their model elsewhere in the country.

“That meant they couldn’t work in Essex and deliver on their commitments to the Home Office.

“So we approached the youth service – the scheme comprises effectively in having a youth worker in person or on call to be there when someone is brought in with what is normally a knife wound or where the A&E staff believe it be a drug-related attack.

“They refer to it as a teachable moment. The worker’s message is around articulating that this is not an ideal situation they’re in and what can we do to help them get out of it.

“The youth worker is there one to one and that gives them that very real and practical support when they need it – the idea is that it’s the right time to be providing that intervention.

“If we had spoken to them earlier in the day when they weren’t in that situation they probably wouldn’t be interested.”

The scheme had opportunities to take advantage of that “teachable moment” while youth workers were in talks with hospital staff.

He added: “It has taken a while to make sure they have the right staff and the hospitals are on board and the right safeguarding policies are in place.”

In Essex, the number of offences involving knives went up 103 per cent – from 267 between September 2012 and September 2013, to 541 in 12 months to September 2018.

The number of homicides in Essex involving knifes went from two to nine in the same period.

The scheme is inherently dependent on the tenacity of those people working in hospitals and their skill in striking up trust

Mr Myddelton added: “It takes a certain type of individual to deliver this type of project.

“You need to be quite tenacious.

“The young person will probably tell them to bugger off when they are first presented with the issue.

“They might tell them to bugger off again an hour later but the third time we might have some success.”

A violence and vulnerability programme manager starts in the next two weeks to coordinate the partnership involving councils, Essex Police and the charity and voluntary sector.

Funding for the violence and vulnerability framework scheme  ends in March 2020, but more money is anticipated to follow.

Mr Myddelton added: “It’s a big priority nationally so I would be surprised if there wasn’t some more national funding for this – especially where it has been proven to work.

“So if we can demonstrate we are having a positive impact I’d be very surprised if the government didn’t recognise that.

“At the moment it is only being piloted at a couple of hospitals – it may be that in the long term we role it out to more and in other areas.”