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Nurses to get free ‘pocket guide’ to help tackle modern slavery

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Nurses will receive a new guide to help spot victims of trafficking and address the lack of modern slavery awareness training in the NHS, the Royal College of Nursing has announced.

The new guide – designed to fit in the uniform pocket – will be sent to nursing staff across the UK from today, after it was revealed that 86% of staff do not feel adequately trained on the issue.

“We want to get to a point where this is second nature to all health care staff”

Carmal Bagness

This is despite a fifth of victims admitting coming into contact with health care services during their time in slavery, noted the college.

Nurses are warned that they should be suspicious if they see a person accompanied by a controlling individual who insists on speaking for them.

Other examples that should trigger concern include vague and inconsistent explanations – of school, employment, residence or age – fear of authority and not being registered with a GP or lacking official documentation.

In particular, nurses are advised to look out for those with health issues that include signs of trauma, sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy and poor nutrition.

The guide tells nursing staff not raise the trafficking concern with anyone accompanying the person and to find space to discuss the matter in private.

“There is a huge need to educate nurses. It needs to be embedded in nursing practice”

Louise Cahill

Nurses are also advised to ask only non-judgmental and relevant questions before escalating it to their manager, colleagues and local safeguarding leads.

The RCN launched the guide (see attached PDF below) to coincide with a debate on the subject at its annual congress in Liverpool, which is expected to take place on Wednesday.

A resolution submitted by the RCN Outer North West London Branch was passed, which called on the college to campaign for “robust systems” that assist nurses to identify and support trafficked men and women.

Zeba Arif, from the branch, presented the resolution. She described an example where a midwife encountered a pregnant young woman with an “over-bearing aunt”.

Suspicious at the unusual relationship dynamic, the midwife arranged for an interpreter to attend. The girl turned out to be a servant and the aunt her employer. She has become pregnant after being sexually assaulted by the woman’s son.

Claire Picton, from the RCN Emergency Care Association, recounted another example, involving an older man and young woman presenting to give birth. The girl was 13 and being trafficked for sex work, and it was her second pregnancy; the man was the trafficker.

It is estimated that 13,000 men, women and children are trafficked for exploitation in the UK every year and forced to work in prostitution, domestic roles or manual labour.

In October, NHS England disclosed that one in five trafficked men and women come into contact with health professionals.

The PROTECT programme – which develops evidence to inform the NHS response to human trafficking – found that 86% of staff remain unaware of how to identify or support possible victims.

It is hoped that the new pocket guide will be carried by nurses and midwives in key parts of the NHS such as GP surgeries, walk-in centres, accident and emergency, and maternity.

Carmel Bagness, RCN professional lead for midwifery and women’s health, said: “Victims of trafficking and slavery are so often hidden from public view, so it’s vital that healthcare staff take the opportunity to identify them and alert the relevant services.

“This needs to be something that nursing staff are on the lookout for at all times; they need to be able to read the signs and know exactly how to respond,” she said.

Royal College of Nursing

Women facing ‘barriers’ to gynaecological healthcare

Carmel Bagness

“We want to get to a point where this is second nature to all health care staff, so that every victim who comes into contact with the health service receives the help they need,” she said.

“With this pocket guide we hope to kick-start this journey to educate all nursing staff so that the health service does everything it can in the fight against modern slavery,” she added.

Louise Cahill, a nursing student leading projects to raise awareness of modern slavery among professionals, said: “Working in charities, I helped victims of trafficking for years. But when I started nursing training, I found no one had any idea this was such a big problem in the UK.

“There is a huge need to educate nurses. It needs to be embedded in nursing practice – it’s a key component of our safeguarding duties,” she said.

Last month, the Institute of Health Visiting published a short guideline aimed at helping health visitors to spot the signs of an individual in domestic slavery

It highlighted that health visitors had a vital role in helping identify the victims of domestic slavery, as they may be their only contact with the outside world.

Resolution submitted by the RCN North West London Branch – That this meeting of Congress urges RCN Council to campaign for robust systems that assist nurses to identify and support trafficked men and women.

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