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One in eight hospital staff have 'treated human trafficking victims’


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”

Study authors

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”

Study authors

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

Readers' comments (11)

  • I think border controls ought to be re-introduced across the EU, which they are entitled to do if it is an emergency. Whilst this would not alter free movement of people across the EU, it would put in various gateways whereby child trafficking, slavery, terrorism, etc, might be picked up earlier. It would not solve everything, but if we have people trafficking, this is the 'people trade', and for governments to not address this via border control indicates that they are unable to manage the country. The problems at Calais are the obvious case in point: children, terrorists links, black market, people simply wanting a new life, and those in need of asylum are all lumped together in the same area, with no way of knowing or separating out the individual and their needs from the group.

    So lax borders are more likely to add to the problem than to solve - or at least manage - it. The tunnel to the continent in effect ceased to make us an island and joined us to land. The responses to problems do not reflect this change, and the people trade has increased over time. Some new thinking ought to have been in place decades ago for the protection of people.

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  • To Anonymous 4.26pm

    Right on the money! I'm a staunch European, having lived on the Continent for 40 years now, but the whole Schengen agreement was always a disaster waiting to happen. I feel very sorry for my former compatriots in the UK who are having to cope with the consequences of Schengen without even being in the zone. I also agree that Schengen, by facilitating the task of the traffickers, has made things worse, not better, for the many vulnerable people seeking a better life.

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  • Lily44 | 21-Aug-2015 4:56 pm

    Likewise, I have lived in mainland Europe since the early 1970s and it now feels far less safe than ever before for travel and holidays or even wandering round the larger cities. Out and about and on buses and trains you have no idea who you are rubbing shoulders with, and where I live one is used to chatting with fellow passengers and everyone else. Now I always think twice before deciding to go anywhere or to visit some of the wonderful and stunning places right on my doorstep. Now retired, on one of my last late shifts I had to request an escort from the hospital premises to home even though it was just over the road!

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  • Your political/nationalist opinions are not relevant here.

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  • Thank you all for highlighting the issues. We in Australia do not know how lucky we are, even though we are an isolated desert continent!!

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  • Its a political topic which requires a political solution, so 22 Aug 5.13 should not be so offensive. Border controls across europe are the only answer if we are to get on top of a problem which threatens to swomp europe and ultimately destroy the whole concept of asylum. Or we could leave Europe if thats what you would prefer cos thats where the groundswell of public opinion is taking us.

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  • This story is about the need for awareness, training and support for staff encountering suspected victims of human trafficking. Whilst tending to such a patient your political views should be furthest from your mind - you should be concerned only with their well-being and safety as well your own.Save your moral, political or any other judgements for the pub.

    It amazes me that Britains are happy to take advantage of their right to travel, live and work anywhere in Europe but want to deny the same when it comes to our own shores.

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  • It goes without saying that we treat patients professionally whether you aprove or disaprove. We have allsorts from sex offenders to saints on our ward but we are still entitled to seek and consider political solutions or does that only extend to ideas that meet your political persuasion. For the record I would expect british citizens to accept border controls as well.

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  • 1:54PM - quite so. Given that our border control arrangements are not going to change any time soon, does anyone have any opinions about the need for guidance, training and support for the CURRENT problem?

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  • Further to 6.40pm yesterday - no thoughts or ideas from anybody? No, I thought not.

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