Despite huge efforts to crack down on human trafficking and modern day slavery, it remains a significant problem within the UK. However, healthcare professionals can help to spot signs of abuse.

Human trafficking or modern day slavery is a huge problem across the globe and remains a widespread issue in western countries such as the UK and America. Despite recent efforts from the UK to crack down on this problem, in the past year, the number of potential human trafficking victims identified by UK councils has increased by a staggering 78 per cent, according to the National Crime Agency.

Most commonly, victims are exploited for labour, trafficked from other countries on the promise that they will have a better life here in the UK. Others are taken against their own will. The research also showed that victims came from 102 different countries with Albania, Vietnam and Nigeria being the most common.

In response to these statistics, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that the British public and healthcare professionals working with vulnerable members of society need to be more aware of modern slavery. By raising awareness, authorities will be helped in tackling criminal gangs that exploit workers living in bad conditions and receiving little to no pay.

Healthcare professionals often come into contact with victims of trafficking, placing them in a position where they can help the vulnerable and protect them from further abuse. However, the signs of trafficking aren’t always easy to spot or workers just simply don’t know what they should be looking out for. Here we take a look at how to identify victims of modern slavery:

Who to look out for

Typically, it is foreign nationals that make up the majority of people trafficked but there are also cases where UK residents are trafficked around the country or abroad. Victims can be of any age and both males and females are affected.

Some of the most common signs of human trafficking come from patients that are scared to speak to doctors or nurses and are unable to explain why they have obtained any injuries or illnesses. When questioned about where they live or work, they may also be vague or in the company of someone who speaks on their behalf.

If you have any suspicions

There may be cases where healthcare professionals suspect that something is not quite right with a patient, which causes them to suspect trafficking. This can include inconsistent explanations or a pattern of symptoms. Any concerns like this should be acted on immediately, whether this be asking further questions, providing the victim with information or support, or reporting the issue to the correct board or authority.

According to government guidance from the Department of Health, healthcare professionals should:

  • Find out more about the situation by speaking to the patient in private without anyone who accompanied them
  • Not make promises they can’t keep
  • Only ask questions that are not judgemental
  • Give the individual time and be patient
  • Not let concerns they may have about challenging cultural beliefs stand in the way of making informed assessments about the safety of a child, young person or adult
  • Speak to colleagues, local safeguarding authorities or senior members of staff for further advice

Things to remember

Often, victims of human trafficking may not even know they are being trafficked and therefore do not identify as victims of modern slavery. There are also instances when a patient will not reveal the have been human trafficked because they are scared, feel shameful, language barriers prevent them from doing so, or just because they haven’t had the opportunity to do so.

When it comes to age, even if a person says they are an adult but there are suspicions they are a child, healthcare professionals can still take action as though they are under 18 years.