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18 October 2019
New human trafficking guidelines for health workers

Image credit: Flickr, Imagens Evangélicas

New human trafficking guidelines for health workers

Health care workers will be given new guidance to help identify signs of human trafficking and exploitation among their patients, the Scottish Government has announced.

In the first six months of this year in Scotland there was a 74 per cent increase in the number of people identified as victims of human trafficking and exploitation, rising to 188 victims, the government said.

Cabinet Health Secretary Jeane Freeman today announced new guidelines to help frontline health professionals identify signs of trafficking, and to know what action to take if they have any concerns.

And given the health risks associated with forced labour and sexual exploitation, NHS Scotland staff were in “an ideal position to spot and support victims”, the government said.

The health guidelines state “what every health worker can do” to improve the safety of trafficked persons: “being aware of the possibility of human trafficking; recognising signs and symptoms; broaching the subject sensitively; listening and making time; checking current safety position; giving information and referring on to other services; documenting and recording information accurately.

“Remember – a trafficked person may be a virtual prisoner, so seeing health staff may be a rare opportunity for him or her to tell someone about what is happening,” the guidelines said.

It states there is a “duty on specified Scottish public authorities to notify Police Scotland about anyone they suspect may be a victim of trafficking”.

However, as of October 2019 “the NHS has yet to be confirmed as a specified public authority”. “In the event the NHS does have a duty to notify, there will be arrangements put in place to guide you on this."

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Any form of human trafficking or exploitation is completely unacceptable in 21st century Scotland.

“Victims of trafficking and exploitation can be severely traumatised by their experiences and can find it extremely challenging to share their fears.

“They may also be distrustful or anxious about contact with authorities. While many healthcare workers may be unfamiliar with indicators of human trafficking and exploitation, practitioners have a unique and vital opportunity to manage individuals who may otherwise attempt to avoid services.

“This guidance is intended to support healthcare workers in recognising and responding appropriately to victims of this abhorrent crime.”

COSLA also launched human trafficking guidance today, for Scotland’s 32 health authorities.

“Human trafficking and exploitation have been reported in all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. The victims of these atrocious crimes, men, women and children of any nationality, suffer unthinkable psychological and physical abuse,” COSLA community wellbeing spokesperson Councillor Kelly Parry said.

“It is crucial that all staff are informed about how these crimes might intersect with their day to day duties. I am pleased to share this guidance and affirm COSLA’s continued commitment to supporting Scottish local authorities in this important work.”

Minister for Community Safety Ash Denham welcomed COSLA’s guidance, saying the organisation was a “key partner in the fight against exploitation and the are doing a vital job of raising awareness of human trafficking and the signs of this intolerable crime”.

“We are working in partnership with Police Scotland, prosecutors, councils, support agencies and many others to ensure a collaborative and robust approach to tackling this abhorrent crime and to ensure it has no place in Scotland today,” Denham said.

The guidelines come after the Scottish Government launched public consultation on Section 38 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015. The government is currently analysing responses to that consultation, and it said a report would be published “in due course”.

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