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New guide aims to help nurses fight modern slavery

RCN's new pocket guide advising nurses on how to identify and raise concerns about modern slavery will be sent to nursing staff across the UK
Modern slavery

Nurses will receive a new guide to help them identify victims of trafficking and modern slavery, the RCN has announced.

The pocket-size guide will be sent to all relevant nursing staff across the UK, after NHS figures revealed 86% of staff do not feel adequately trained to recognise the signs of slavery.

Furthermore, 20% of identified victims say they came into contact with healthcare services during their time in slavery.

'On the lookout'

RCN professional lead for midwifery and women's health Carmel Bagness said: 'Victims of trafficking and slavery are so often hidden from public view. This needs to be something that nursing staff are on the lookout for at all times they need to be able to read the signs and

Nurses will receive a new guide to help them identify victims of trafficking and modern slavery, the RCN has announced.


One in five victims say they came into contact with healthcare services during their time in slavery. Picture: iStock

The pocket-size guide will be sent to all relevant nursing staff across the UK, after NHS figures revealed 86% of staff do not feel adequately trained to recognise the signs of slavery.

Furthermore, 20% of identified victims say they came into contact with healthcare services during their time in slavery. 

'On the lookout'

RCN professional lead for midwifery and women's health Carmel Bagness said: 'Victims of trafficking and slavery are so often hidden from public view. This needs to be something that nursing staff are on the lookout for at all times – they need to be able to read the signs and know exactly how to respond.

'We want to get to a point where this is second nature for all healthcare staff, so that every victim who comes into contact with the health service receives the help they need. 

'With this pocket guide we hope to kick-start this journey to educate all nursing staff, so that the health service does everything it can in the fight against modern slavery.'

Warning signs

In particular, the guide says nurses should recognise potential indicators such as signs of trauma, STIs, pregnancy and poor nutrition.

It says staff should not raise concerns about trafficking or slavery with anyone accompanying the person, and should find somewhere to discuss the matter with them privately. 

The guide advises that nurses should be concerned if they encounter:

  • A person accompanied by a controlling individual who insists on speaking for them.
  • Vague and inconsistent explanations regarding schooling, employment, residence or age.
  • Someone with a fear of authority.
  • A person who is not registered with a GP or does not have any official documentation. 

Nurses are advised to ask only non-judgemental, relevant questions before escalating concerns to their manager, colleagues and local safeguarding leads.

Education needed

Nursing student Louise Cahill, an RCNi Nurse Awards 2017 finalist who is leading projects to raise awareness of modern slavery among healthcare professionals, said: 'Working in charities, I helped victims of trafficking for years. But when I started nursing training, I found no one had any idea this was such a big problem in the UK.

'There is a huge need to educate nurses. It needs to be embedded in nursing practice – it’s a key component of our safeguarding duties.'

An estimated 13,000 men, women and children are trafficked for exploitation in the UK every year and forced to work in prostitution, domestic roles or manual labour.

In October 2016, NHS England disclosed that one in five trafficked men and women come into contact with health professionals.

The PROTECT programme, which develops evidence to inform the NHS response to human trafficking, found that 86% of staff remain unaware of how to identify or support possible victims.

The new pocket guide will be used by nurses and midwives in GP surgeries, walk-in centres, emergency departments and maternity services across the NHS. 

The RCN launched the tool to coincide with a debate on the subject at its annual congress, which concludes today in Liverpool.


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