Published: 12/08/2004, Volume II4, No. 5918 Page 8

Primary care trusts have until next month to draw up plans that offer solutions to tackle crime, disorder and drug misuse in partnership with the police and local authorities.

New guidance from the Department of Health and Home Office spells out PCTs' statutory responsibilities to work with other agencies to tackle social problems that impact on the well-being of the community - and are an enormous financial burden on the NHS.

The guidance follows legislation enacted in April that makes English PCTs 'responsible authorities'.

It says NHS bed days related to violent disorder cost between£1.1bn and£2.3bn per year.

Property damage, risk, and liability or injury to NHS staff costs between£300m-£678m per year and the cost of treating injuries stemming from domestic violence is around£1.2bn per year.

The audit will be used by multiagency crime and disorder reduction partnerships to reduce health inequalities, improve the lives of patients and staff, improve children's opportunities and increase the participation of problem drug users in treatment.

Roger Bolas, chief executive of Easington PCT in County Durham, a former coalfield area that is now one of the most deprived in the country, described the responsibilities as a 'worthwhile challenge'.

He said PCTs should not think of the audit as a mere hoop to jump through and then ignore.

'The days when only one agency can say they are responsible are gone.'

Mr Bolas said the NHS needed to play a key role in developing joint working, and gave the example of existing projects being run with police to improve safety in hospitals.

'As a result of us feeling better about being at work in a safe environment, the patients do, too.'