We’re all part of the solution to knife crime

Nurse Michelle Cox, whose son survived a machete attack, says violent crime is an issue for everyone, not just BME communities

Nurse Michelle Cox, whose son survived a machete attack, says violent crime is an issue for everyone, not just BME communities

Picture: iStock

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them, the writer Maya Angelou once said.

That’s exactly what I am seeking to do by writing this article for Nursing Standard, two years after my son was involved in a horrific machete attack.

Up and down Britain, communities are being affected by gun and knife crime. It seems that not a week goes by without another news item on the stabbing or killing of a young person, and each time my stomach does somersaults as I think of the turmoil the family will go through.


offences involving a knife or sharp instrument were recorded in England and Wales in 2017, up from 32,448 in 2016

Source: Office for National Statistics

Because inevitably someone’s world is being turned upside down. Every news story means someone’s son, brother, friend, father or grandson has been attacked or killed.

‘I can remember the horrific injuries’

I have been a registered nurse in my home city of Liverpool for more than 20 years, but I can recall that day in 2016 like no other. I was a senior nurse and I remember my colleagues in the emergency preparedness resilience and response team going into their gold command status after two major incidents were declared in the city.

An hour or so later I discovered that one of those incidents involved my son, who had been attacked with a machete. He was being given resuscitation in the emergency department as staff tried to stabilise him before moving him to the major trauma unit.

‘We must not become complacent and think “this doesn’t affect me” or “this is not part of my world”’

I still find it difficult to talk about the details, but I can remember the horrific injuries, emergency surgery and blood transfusions, followed by months of dressing changes, physiotherapy and rehabilitation to rebuild the tendons that had been slashed.

Michelle Cox: ‘As nurses we can work with commissioners and public
health colleagues to replicate initiatives that tackle knife crime.’

It was the most traumatic time of my life, but I thank God and consider myself fortunate, because my son lived. Many families are not so fortunate.

I will not be drawn on knife crime being a race issue. I would describe it first and foremost as a community and safeguarding issue. Unfortunately, the data show that these crimes are disproportionately affecting black communities, in terms of both victims and perpetrators.

Vulnerability and exploitation

Interestingly, it has been reported that the type of person carrying out knife crime has changed – in the past it was often gang-related, now more than 75% of those caught have no connection to gangs or gang activity.

This week (on 11 October), I will be speaking at the annual conference of the chief nursing officer for England’s black and minority ethnic (BME) strategic advisory group, which is focusing on safer communities. The theme is exploring vulnerabilities and exploitation. I will be sharing my pain as a mother, with an overriding message on the need to work in partnership to reduce these tragic incidents in our cities.

In recognition of my commitment to learning and high standards of practice in patient care, I have been made a Queen’s Nurse by the Queen’s Nursing Institute. I believe that by listening to young people and communities we can work together with commissioners and public health colleagues to raise the profile of gun and knife crime and replicate some of the best practice initiatives in our NHS.

The courage to speak up

For two years I did not want or feel able to talk about what happened to my son. I have had to find the courage to speak up because these attacks have become regular news headlines.

I have been interviewed on local radio stations around the UK, and spoken to mothers who have either lost children to gun or knife crime or suffered the psychological effects of such incidents.

‘I will be sharing my pain as a mother, with an overriding message on the need to work in partnership to reduce these tragic incidents in our cities’

Their stories are many and varied. Some children are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, other mothers describe to me how their children were recruited into gang crime. Many of the children think that carrying a weapon is necessary. The mothers repeatedly say exclusion from mainstream education and cuts to youth services were the initial factors in their children’s descent into criminal activity.

‘It is happening in your community’

I do not have all the answers but I believe there has to be an end to this violence in our communities, and the solution will need to take account of its multifaceted psychosocial influences.

The African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ means that it takes an entire community of different people interacting with children to enable them to grow up in a safe environment.

‘The victims are not only the injured but also the perpetrators’

I nearly lost my son, but it doesn’t have to happen to you for you to understand the issues. We must not become complacent and think “this doesn’t affect me”, or “this is not part of my world”. It is happening in your community, so you have to be part of the solution.


rise in knife crime in England and Wales in 2017

Source: Office for National Statistics

As nurses we know how to show care and compassion, but we also need to be empathetic. Studies have shown that empathy improves our leadership ability and facilitates effective communication.

Ripple effect

We need to develop our nursing competencies and acknowledge that the victims are not only the injured but also the perpetrators. The ripple effect on families, communities and employers is not fully acknowledged.

Many black families whose children are getting into trouble choose to take them out of the UK. They send them ‘home’ to Africa or the Caribbean to live with their extended family in the hope they can rebuild or change their lives in a different environment. I am planning research to understand how effective this is and to evaluate the effect on families and the individual.

We need to appreciate the long-term enduring effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on all victims. But we should also acknowledge that as nurses we ourselves are not invincible against PTSD. We need to build our own resilience.

Michelle Cox is north region lead for the chief nursing officer for England’s BME strategic advisory group 

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