Debate: People trafficking

That this meeting of Congress urges RCN Council to campaign for robust systems that assist nurses to identify and support trafficked men and women.

People being trafficked into the UK and forced into slavery are on the increase. Many of these victims come into contact with health care services so nursing and/or midwifery professionals should be able to identify the signs and know how to act on them, in particular understand referral processes and safeguarding pathways, as well as the clinical needs of those who access health care.

It is estimated that there are over 45 million people trapped in modern slavery across the globe.

Current estimates by the Home Office (2014) suggest that there are 13,000 men, women and children known to have been trafficked into or in the UK, for a variety of reasons including domestic work; rural and farm; food processing; sex workers; criminal activity including cannabis cultivation, street crime, forced begging and benefit fraud; forced or sham marriages, and organ removal.

One in eight NHS staff in England think they have seen a victim of trafficking in their practice and one in five victims report having come into contact with health care services during the time they are trafficked .

It is vital that all nurses and midwives have an understanding of access to health care by victims/survivors, and how they may present. Equally important is that health care professionals are aware of how to proceed, and what pathways and formal referral mechanisms (such as the National Referral pathway) are available to support best safeguarding practice. 

A victim of modern slavery may display a variety of health care issues including evidence of long-term multiple injuries; indications of mental, physical and sexual trauma; sexually transmitted infections; pregnancy; disordered eating or poor nutrition; fatigue or symptoms of psychiatric and psychological distress.

The PROTECT Team at Kings College London published Human Trafficking: improving the UK’s health-care response, a policy briefing in March 2017. Its specific recommendations for Health Education England, the Royal Colleges, and professional organisations responsible for setting training standards for NHS staff, include providing targeted training to respond to trafficked people’s needs and ensuring adequate training for NHS professionals.

In 2012, as part of its National Gender Based Violence and Health programme, NHS Scotland produced Human Trafficking – What Health Workers Need to Know about Human Trafficking, which identified that health providers who encounter a trafficked person, or other exploited individual, have a unique opportunity to provide care and referral options which may be an individual’s first step towards recovery and safety.  It gives advice on how to identify people who have been trafficked, support disclosure and what to do if someone is suspected of having been trafficked.

The Scottish Government has just completed a consultation on its proposed Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy, with the final version due to be published by the end of May 2017. The strategy will support people who encounter victims to understand signs, know what to do and have access to specialist advice and support. It will also ensure that coherent person/child-centred support processes are in place that enable victims to recover and build resilience.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health and the Police Service of Northern Ireland have published joint guidance on working arrangements for the welfare and safeguarding of child victims of human trafficking.

The Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group provides oversight and direction for tackling slavery and people trafficking in Wales. It co-ordinates between devolved and non-devolved partners and third sector organisations. Wales has the only government in the UK to employ an anti-slavery co-ordinator, whose role is to make Wales hostile to slavery and to co-ordinate the best possible support for survivors.

The RCN has recently launched a web page on modern slavery and has also produced a pocket guide on modern slavery, which is being distributed to all RCN Congress delegates this year.

Zeba Arif, North West London Outer Branch, opened this debate by stating that according to Home Office statistics there are 13,000 trafficked men and women in the UK. Victims of slavery will present with a variety of health care issues including sexually transmitted diseases, trauma, fatigue and psychological and psychiatric distress.

Zeba said “modern slavery goes across cultures” and emphasised the importance of language interpreters. Pockets of good practice exist but Zeba stated “we need comprehensive education programmes” to enable best safeguarding practices.

She called on nurses to have an understanding of how trafficked people may present and be aware of how to proceed and the available care pathways. She also urged delegates to look in their Congress bags for the RCN’s new pocket guide on modern slavery.

Chris Butler, Nurses in Management and Leadership Forum said the issue “goes to the core of the responsibilities of health care professionals”. He questioned the negative stereotypes of refugees and asylum seekers and said they are “real people who’ve been through hell” and challenged Congress delegates to find opportunities to engage with people who have been trafficked, learn about their experiences and help.

Sue Goodman, Plymouth Branch took to the podium and agreed we need a robust system to help nurses safeguard people. She said “it’s just as important as prevent training”. She also stated that trafficking isn’t confined to big inner cities, it happens in local, rural societies too. Margaret Devlin, Northern Ireland Southern Branch also said it doesn’t just happen to foreign people, it also happens to vulnerable people within the UK.

Elizabeth Rees suggested working with landlord associations around the UK which could help them to spot trafficked people and inform police or public health contacts.

Speakers agreed there needs to be education and training for nurses to recognise all forms of abuse.

Vote: passed


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17 May 2017 11:15 - 11:45

Location To Be Confirmed


Resolution, submitted by the RCN North West London Branch

Page last updated - 04/08/2020