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Hilary Garratt: ‘The power to combat modern slavery is in our hands’

With the right knowledge, NHS staff should not be afraid to act when they encounter modern slavery, says the deputy chief nursing officer for England.
Modern slavery

With the right knowledge, NHS staff should not be afraid to act when they encounter modern slavery, says the deputy chief nursing officer for England

There are more individuals occupying positions of slavery across the globe today than at any other point in history. In the UK alone, it is estimated that there are more than 13,000 people living in slavery in our communities.

I am often asked what modern slavery is, what these individuals look like and where they are. Modern slavery includes forced and bonded labour, child slavery, early and forced marriage and all forms of people trafficking.

Trapped

Modern slaves may be hidden in domestic service or in our high streets, working in nail bars, food outlets and washing cars. They

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With the right knowledge, NHS staff should not be afraid to act when they encounter modern slavery, says the deputy chief nursing officer for England


Modern slaves may be hidden in domestic service or working in high street businesses. Picture: Alamy.

There are more individuals occupying positions of slavery across the globe today than at any other point in history. In the UK alone, it is estimated that there are more than 13,000 people living in slavery in our communities.

I am often asked what modern slavery is, what these individuals look like and where they are. Modern slavery includes forced and bonded labour, child slavery, early and forced marriage and all forms of people trafficking.

Trapped

Modern slaves may be ‘hidden’ in domestic service or in our high streets, working in nail bars, food outlets and washing cars. They are also found in factories, farming and the fishing industry. Often, people think that slaves in this country must be from overseas, but there are British nationals who have also been trapped into a life of modern slavery.

While working in the Calais refugee camp this year, I saw how easily vulnerable people can be exploited. Young boys and girls in search of a better life were being lured into the hands of criminals. The UK has some of the strongest anti-slavery laws in the world, but I knew some of these young people would still end up in the UK as slaves.

Slavery laws are only effective if people and organisations work together to recognise this problem and support victims. The NHS, with more than 1.55 million staff and over 1 million people accessing services every 36 hours, has a significant role to play.

Recognise the signs

A recent study commissioned by the Department of Health highlighted that 1 in 8 NHS staff admitted to coming into contact with victims of modern slavery. However, they generally did not know how to deal with it. Busy healthcare professionals do not intervene for fear of being out of their depth or making a situation worse.

With the right knowledge, staff can recognise the signs of modern slavery and provide the support and help that people need.

NHS England is working closely with the independent anti-slavery commissioner to ensure that objectives in the NHS are clearly aligned to his priorities. We are working with the RCN and Royal College of General Practitioners and other organisations to develop a comprehensive training programme for staff.

A video has also been launched, which highlights the signs to look for in everyday practice to identify both victims and perpetrators (click here).

What to do

Here is what you should do when you suspect that an individual is a victim or a perpetrator of modern slavery:

Communicate: Victims may be scared, even terrified. Use appropriate language and seek a translator if required. Raise your concerns with a colleague, manager or safeguarding lead and decide on a course of action.

Document: Keep clear and accurate records of concerns, including a record of a patient’s journey into the country, the local area or the point at which they accessed health care.

Escalate: If appropriate, use the safeguarding processes already in place to make a referral to social care or the police.

We can combat modern slavery, it is in our hands. We live in a country with powers to tackle this hideous crime and, for the sake of vulnerable victims, we need to work in partnership with others and take action.

About the author

Hilary Garratt is director of nursing, NHS England, and deputy chief nursing officer for England


NHS England’s Twitter campaign raising awareness of modern slavery, started by Hilary Garratt, is on Twitter @NHSEngland, #EndSlavery2016

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