KNIFE-proof body armour is now being worn by security staff at the Royal Bolton Hospital to protect them against violent patients.

The new slash-resistant vests have been given to 12 security guards after a number of blades were discovered.

Bosses said knives were found outside the hospital and weapons have also been confiscated from patients arriving at the accident and emergency department.

Two security guards wearing the new gear will be stationed in casualty from 6pm to 6am every day. Nigel Palmer, head of clinical support and hotel services, said: "The over-vests are similar to those worn by police. They are purely a way to enhance safety. They are slash proof to protect them in the event of an incident. Increasingly, people coming into the hospital are carrying knives.

"Fortunately, no one has been harmed with a knife or any other weapon. But there have been increasing incidents of people carrying them."

Staff have previously reported an incident of a patient walking into casualty carrying a Samurai sword under an overcoat.

The hospital has a police unit stationed in accident and emergency after calls for extra security were made by the independent inspectors from CHI -- the Commission for Health Improvement -- who have identified the town's busy casualty department as having a high number of serious incidents.

CCTV cameras have already been installed to help cut crime against staff.

Mr Palmer said: "We hope the police room is acting as a deterrent. Clearly, a police presence in casualty calms people down."

The worst violence occurs at Bolton's accident and emergency department on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and is almost always fuelled by alcohol. The hospital says it is currently drawing up ways of banning persistently violent patients thanks to new powers granted by the Government.

Mr Palmer said: "We have not implemented the zero tolerance ban yet. It is still in draft form and we realise that there are wider ramifications of this policy.

"We will be consulting further before we will be implementing. But it will only be used in extreme circumstances."

Royal College of Nursing steward at the hospital, Jean Cummings, welcomed the moves and said: "It is a sad reflection of the change in society and of increasing violence."