British health workers unsure how to spot, help trafficked patients- study

by Joseph D'Urso | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 21 August 2015 16:30 GMT

A nurse poses at St Thomas' Hospital in central London January 28, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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One in eight reported contact with someone they knew or suspected to have been trafficked

LONDON, Aug 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Workers in Britain's health service have little idea how to identify or help people who have been trafficked, though many think they have had contact with trafficking victims, researchers said on Thursday.

Some 87 percent of National Health Service staff quizzed by researchers from two London universities did not know what questions to ask to identify trafficking victims, and almost four-fifths said they lacked the training needed to help such people.

"Medical professionals are the ones that come into contact with people who have been trafficked," said Jakub Sobik, a spokesman for Anti-Slavery, a British human rights charity. "It's a very delicate situation".

One in eight of those questioned reported contact with someone they knew or suspected to have been trafficked, rising to one in five for those working in maternity care.

The academics, from Kings College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, recommended special training for those working in areas where contact with trafficked people is likely, such as maternity care, mental health, paediatrics and emergency medicine.

"You're essentially looking for people who might be showing signs of abuse or neglect, so that might be physical injury or sexual abuse," said co-author Siân Oram from King's College. Another warning sign is if a dominating companion makes the patient reluctant to speak freely, Oram said.

NHS workers "lack confidence in how to respond appropriately" if they recognise someone is a trafficking victim, said the study, published by the online British medical journal BMJ Open.

Midwives, assistants and other support staff were questioned as well as doctors and nurses. "It's something that a receptionist might pick up, it's something a porter might pick up," Oram told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In 2014, 2,340 suspected trafficking victims in Britain were passed to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a government scheme for identifying and supporting victims of human trafficking, up 34 percent from the previous year.

"Certainly we're seeing year on year more trafficked people being identified, but we don't know if people are getting better at identifying, or there are more victims of trafficking," Oram said.

The Home Office (interior ministry) says there are up to 13,000 victims of modern slavery in Britain, forced to work in factories and farms, sold for sex in brothels or kept in domestic servitude, among other forms of slavery. Most come from Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam and Romania.

Worldwide, people who exploit slaves generate an estimated $150 billion a year in profits. (Reporting By Joseph D'Urso, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit

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