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Few NHS staff feel able to deal with victims of human trafficking – report

As many as one in eight NHS staff have treated victims of human trafficking for a range of issues including mental health – although few know how to best respond, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open by academics at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN)

International law requires that the UK provides victims of human trafficking with whatever medical treatment they require, including psychological help and counselling.

A research team led by Dr Sian Oram and Professor Louise Howard of the IoPPN asked 800 NHS staff across England from a wide range of specialties to gauge their experience and knowledge of people trafficking, as well as their confidence in responding appropriately to it, using a validated questionnaire (PROTECT) between August 2013 and April 2014.

In all, around one in eight (13%) staff said they had treated a patient whom they either knew, or suspected, had been trafficked.

Three out of four of those surveyed said they would be interested in targeted training around people trafficking, with interest particularly high among those working in mental health and emergency medicine services.

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.

Most staff in every specialty represented said they didn’t know what questions to ask to spot potential victims (just under 89%), while more than three quarters (78%) said they didn’t feel sufficiently trained to enable them to help victims adequately.’

‘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,’ write the researchers.

Senior author Dr Sian Oram said: ‘The study highlights the important role that the NHS can play in efforts to tackle human trafficking: a substantial proportion of the NHS staff who took part in this study reported having come into contact with patients they knew or suspected of being trafficked.’

‘However, our findings also suggest staff feel underprepared to respond to human trafficking.’

‘In particular, staff report lacking knowledge about how to ask about experiences of human trafficking, how and when to contact the police, and how to make safe referrals to support services.’

‘Training is needed on how to identify and respond to victims’ needs, and would be welcomed by NHS staff.’

Professor Louise Howard said: ‘It is really important that NHS staff know how to identify and respond safely to victims of trafficking in contact with the NHS. Trafficking is a serious breach of human rights and NHS staff could potentially make a huge difference to victims’ lives if they had been trained on how to help.’

Notes to editors

Ross, C. et al (2015) Human trafficking and health: a cross sectional survey of NHS professionals’ contact with victims of human trafficking and published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008682

Funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme.

For further information please contact Louise Pratt, Public Relations and Communications Manager, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience on (0) 20 7848 5378 or +44 (0) 78 5091 9020

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