A “substantial” proportion of NHS hospital staff, around one in eight in some places, treat victims of people trafficking, with maternity services most likely to encounter them, according to a study.
However, the study findings suggest few clinicians feel adequately prepared to respond appropriately.
“Training is needed, particularly for maternity staff, on how to identify and respond to victims’ needs, including through making safe referrals”
International law requires the UK to provide victims of human trafficking with whatever medical treatment they require, including psychological help, counselling, and information on support.
The researchers from King’s College, London wanted to know how likely it was for NHS hospital staff to encounter patients who had been trafficked and how well prepared they felt to respond to them.
They surveyed almost 800 clinical staff from 10 trusts to gauge their experience of people trafficking, as well as their confidence in responding appropriately. The sample included 265 nurses and 65 midwives.
The research work took place between August 2013 and April 2014, using a validated questionnaire called PROTECT.
Overall, one in eight (13%) staff said they had treated a patient whom they either knew, or suspected, had been trafficked.
“NHS professionals working in secondary care are in contact with potential victims of human trafficking, but lack knowledge and confidence in how to respond appropriately”
Maternity services staff were the most likely to encounter victims of human trafficking, with one in five (20.4%) saying they had treated such patients.
However, most staff in every specialty represented said they did not know what questions to ask to spot potential victims – just under 89%. More than three quarters (78%) said they did not feel sufficiently trained to enable them to help victims adequately.
Over half said they lacked the confidence to make appropriate referrals, with referrals for men vexing the most staff (71%), the study authors found.
Most participants, over 95%, did not realise the scale of human trafficking in the UK and 76.5% did not know that calling the police could put patients at risk without appropriate safeguards.
“In particular, [staff] lack knowledge about how to ask about experiences of human trafficking, how and when to contact law enforcement agencies, and how to make referrals to local and national support agencies,” said the researchers in the online journal BMJ Open.
Three out of four of those surveyed said they would be interested in targeted training around people trafficking, particularly those working in mental health and emergency medicine services.
The researchers suggested that additional training for NHS staff could improve the wellbeing and safety of such a vulnerable group of people.
“Training is needed, particularly for maternity staff, on how to identify and respond to victims’ needs, including through making safe referrals,” they said.
Trusts with staff involved in the study
- Birmingham Women’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Croydon Health Services NHS Trust
- East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust
- Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust
- Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
- Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust,
- King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust