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NHS response to identifying trafficking in persons

The 2015 PROTECT study by King’s College London and collaborating institutions shed new light on the nature and scale of human trafficking in the UK. Defined as “the recruitment and movement of people – often by means such as coercion, deception, and abuse of vulnerability – for the purpose of exploitation”, such trafficking has profound consequences for both the physical and mental health of those subjected to it. Over 40% of men and 75% of trafficked women reported having been subject to violence during the trafficking process, whilst almost 50% of those involved in a cross-sectional survey reported PTSD like symptoms, with 40% citing suicidal intentions.

Unfortunately, such cases are far more common than is generally understood. In a survey up to one in eight NHS professionals reported contact with a patient they suspected may have been trafficked. The implications of this for public sector organisations, and the NHS in particular are simultaneously clear and complex. It is clear that as one of the few places that a victim of human trafficking may come into contact with professionals able to help them, the NHS must have methods by which to identify and help these individuals. However, what is at first less clear is exactly how this should be done. Human trafficking is by its very nature something that is intended to be hidden, and victims themselves may be extremely frightened or otherwise unwilling to discuss their situation, meaning doctors and other caregivers must be sensitive in handling such issues.

Over the past two years following the PROTECT study, the NHS has taken further steps to tackle human trafficking, through arming their staff with techniques at an individual level, as well as building institutional processes & procedures focused on the issue.

There are now courses available focusing specifically on identification and treatment of trafficked persons. Produced by Platform 51 in partnership with the Department of Health the resource is based on expertise from across the healthcare sector as well as work with survivors of human trafficking themselves. The session covers situations where healthcare staff may encounter trafficked individuals, as well as their legal status with regards to healthcare. It complements the trafficking toolkit, which provides information on what to do on suspecting a case of human trafficking, and how suspected victims can best be supported.

In a statement late last year Simon Stevens, Head of NHS England, committed to the NHS working towards ensuring all NHS employees have access to up to date formal training on modern slavery and human trafficking.

Uhuru is supportive of this focus and of organisations worldwide working to improve awareness of modern slavery amongst their employees.


E-learning module

Trafficking toolkit