ONE in five maternity staff say they have come into contact with a patient they knew or suspected of having been trafficked, but most healthcare workers report little knowledge or training in how to identify or help victims.
A new study has found 13% of the NHS professionals asked reported previous contact with a patient they knew or suspected of having been trafficked, while among maternity services professionals this was 20%.
But 78% reported they had insufficient training to assist trafficked people and nearly all (95%) were unaware of the scale of human trafficking in the UK.
A United Nations report last year found the number of human trafficking victims identified in the UK had more than doubled since 2010.
It said there were 660 human trafficking victims identified in the UK in 2013, a 20% rise from 522 the previous year and more than twice the 297 identified in 2010.
Among victims identified in the UK in 2013 were 135 children, compared to 130 girls and boys identified the previous year and 80 in 2010.
The BMJ study said victims of human trafficking experienced high levels of abuse including physical, sexual and psychological violence, economic restrictions (such as confiscation of earnings or restriction of access to funds), and other controlling behaviours including confiscation of passport and other identity documents, along with threats to report the victim to immigration, police and child welfare authorities.
It said international law required the UK provided victims of human trafficking with necessary medical treatment, including psychological assistance, counselling and information, but stressed healthcare professionals should not contact the police or support organisations without first discussing it with the patient as doing so could put them in more danger.
“This study provides the first evidence that a substantial proportion of NHS professionals come into contact with patients they know or suspect had been trafficked,” the study authors said.
“Reported contact with potential victims of trafficking was highest among professionals working in maternity services, mental health, paediatrics and emergency medicine.”