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£0.5 million for research into human trafficking

Researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry (IoP), in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust have been awarded £ 449,990 by the Department of Health for research into human trafficking. 

The overarching aim of the PROTECT (Provider Responses, Treatment, and Care for Trafficked People) research programme is to provide evidence to inform the NHS response to human trafficking, specifically in the identification and referral of trafficked people, and safe and appropriate care to meet their health needs.

Professor Louise Howard, the King’s College London IoP study lead, says: 'Trafficked men, women and children frequently experience extreme physical, psychological and sexual violence and social marginalisation, and many suffer from acute and long-term health problems. Currently, we know very little about their healthcare needs, how they access NHS services and how to help healthcare professionals respond optimally to trafficked people under their care.'

Dr Cathy Zimmerman, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine lead, adds: 'Our findings will address this evidence gap and ultimately, help trafficked people receive safe and appropriate healthcare.'

Reports estimate there are 2,600 sex-trafficked women in England and Wales, but measuring the true scale of human trafficking is difficult. People are trafficked for forced sex work, domestic servitude, and into various labour sectors, including agricultural, manufacturing and service industries.  Previous research from King’s and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine revealed that women who had been trafficked for sexual exploitation experienced violence and poor physical and mental health. However, the research also found that there was very little evidence available on the health consequences of trafficked children, men or people trafficked for other forms of exploitation. 

NHS staff have an essential role in identifying and referring trafficked people to other services and receiving and treating people referred for healthcare. Yet, there is extremely limited evidence to inform NHS responses.  Anecdotal reports from post-trafficking services, law enforcement and a small number of provider studies suggest that trafficked people have difficulty accessing healthcare and providers do not feel equipped to identify and provide appropriate care for trafficked people.

The aims of the research are: 

• To gather evidence on the number of trafficked adults and children identify their healthcare needs and experiences and use of healthcare services. 

• To investigate how NHS staff respond to human trafficking, document NHS experience, knowledge and gaps about trafficked people’s health care needs.

• To inform NHS strategy and develop bespoke NHS information and training materials to support NHS staff to identify, refer and care for trafficked people.

Professor Louise Howard, Head of the Section for Women’s Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s, and Dr Cathy Zimmerman, Senior Lecturer in Gender Violence and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are jointly leading the project as Principal Investigators. 

Co-investigators include: Professor Debra Bick, Professor of Evidence Based Midwifery Practice (King’s College London); Dr. Melanie Abas, Senior Lecturer in Global Mental Health (King’s College London); and Dr. Siân Oram, Postdoctoral Researcher (King’s College London); Dr. Rebecca French, Senior Lecturer in Sexual and Reproductive Health (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine); Professor Nicky Stanley, Professor of Social Work (University of Central Lancashire).

The programme will continue until March 2015 and is funded by a Department of Health Policy Research Programme grant. 

For any further information, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, email: or tel: 0207 848 5377

About King’s College London

Department of Health: The Department of Health works to improve the health and well-being of people in England. The Department sets overall policy on all health issues and is responsible for the provision of health services through the National Health Service. The PRP commissions research to support policymaking in the Department.

About the London School of Hygiene & Tropical MedicineThe London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a world-leading centre for research and postgraduate education in public and global health, with 4000 students and more than 1300 staff working in over 100 countries. The School is one of the highest-rated research institutions in the UK, and was recently cited as one of the world’s top universities for collaborative research.  The School's mission is to improve health and health equity in the UK and worldwide; working in partnership to achieve excellence in public and global health research, education and translation of knowledge into policy and practice.