Human trafficking and health: a cross-sectional survey of NHS professionals’ contact with victims of human trafficking

Claire Ross, Stoyanka Dimitrova, Louise Michele Howard, Michael Edward Dewey, Cathy Zimmerman, Sian Oram

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Objectives (1) To estimate the proportion of National Health Service (NHS) professionals who have come into contact with trafficked people and (2) to measure NHS professionals’ knowledge and confidence to respond to human trafficking.

Design A cross-sectional survey.

Setting Face-to-face mandatory child protection and/or vulnerable adults training sessions at 10 secondary healthcare provider organisations in England, and meetings of the UK College of Emergency Medicine.

Participants 782/892 (84.4%) NHS professionals participated, including from emergency medicine, maternity, mental health, paediatrics and other clinical disciplines.

Measures Self-completed questionnaire developed by an expert panel. Questionnaire asks about prior training and contact with potential victims of trafficking, perceived and actual human trafficking knowledge, confidence in responding to human trafficking, and interest in future human trafficking training.

Results 13% participants reported previous contact with a patient they knew or suspected of having been trafficked; among maternity services professionals this was 20.4%. However, 86.8% (n=679) reported lacking knowledge of what questions to ask to identify potential victims and 78.3% (n=613) reported that they had insufficient training to assist trafficked people. 71% (n=556), 67.5% (n=528) and 53.4% (n=418) lacked confidence in making appropriate referrals for men, women and children, respectively, who had been trafficked. 95.3% (n=746) of respondents were unaware of the scale of human trafficking in the UK, and 76.5% (n=598) were unaware that calling the police could put patients in more danger. Psychometric analysis showed that subscales measuring perceived knowledge, actual knowledge and confidence to respond to human trafficking demonstrated good internal consistency (Cronbach's αs 0.93, 0.63 and 0.64, respectively) and internal correlations.

Conclusions NHS professionals working in secondary care are in contact with potential victims of human trafficking, but lack knowledge and confidence in how to respond appropriately. Training is needed, particularly for maternity staff, on how to identify and respond to victims’ needs, including through making safe referrals
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere008682
Pages (from-to)1-7
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number8
Early online date20 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2015


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