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NHS failing victims of trafficking academics report

22 April 2016


MORE than 70 per cent of survivors of human trafficking suffer from some form of mental-health disorder, new research suggests. And the NHS could do more to help them, particularly in accessing its services, a report recommends.

Four in ten survivors are diagnosed with some form of stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a further 34 per cent have depression or other affective disorders. The figures came in the report Protect: Provider responses treatment and care for trafficked people compiled by 20 academics from universities and hospitals in the UK, and funded by the Department for Health Policy Research Programme.

As well has high levels of mental-health problems, trafficking survivors are very likely to have experienced physical violence and rape: these were reported by three-quarters and two-thirds of women respectively in one survey.

Another survey, which was referred to in the report, examined trafficking across several European countries, and reported that 90 per cent of the survivors who were questioned had suffered violent attacks, too.

Despite the huge range of health problems, most NHS staff were reported to be concerned that they were not able to help. One survey suggested that 78 per cent believed that they had not had enough training to assist patients who had been trafficked, even though one in eight staff had contact with a trafficking survivor.

The academic researchers recommend that the Department for Health and NHS Trusts urgently develop plans to improve the way that the NHS helps survivors of trafficking, especially in removing barriers to accessing a GP, such as not having any proof of address.

Although the report concludes that most victims are not able to access health services while under the control of traffickers, the mental-health problems such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety persist for months, if not years, after people are rescued.

“All findings point to the need for an intermediary or support advocate who can help trafficked people navigate the systems,” the researchers state.

Furthermore, the Home Office should amend letters sent to trafficking survivors to state specifically that they are exempt from any charges for NHS services.

“The NHS has a key role to play in helping trafficked people to recover from their ordeal, and in the UK response to human trafficking,” one of the researchers, Dr Cathy Zimmerman, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said last week.

But it was not just doctors and nurses who needed to be on the look-out, Dr Zimmerman said. People trafficked into modern slavery in the UK were often forced to work as servants, farm-labourers, in the construction industry, or even in car washes and nail salons.

“I think the public has to give second thoughts to who is providing their services. I know I do when I go to the car wash.

“If you stop, you look, you think to consider whether the person providing your services is working in a situation that could be abusive . . . that might be something akin to modern slavery, you may want to give a call [to the authorities].”

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