The Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England examines the role the NHS can play in fighting modern slavery:
I am one of the 7.53 billion people alive today, thankful that I can breathe.
Two basic gratifications denied to Pham Thi Tra My, who on 23rd October 2019 at 10.28pm UK time sent a final text to her family in Vietnam apologising that her illegal journey to the UK hadn’t succeeded.
“I’m sorry Mum… I love you so much …I am dying because I can’t breathe.”
Pham sent the text while in transit in a trailer, just four hours before the ambulance was called and 39 people in it were dead. It was a journey for which her family paid £30,000 to human traffickers. A journey that hundreds of people make each year to England lured by the promise of a better lifestyle, a lifestyle far from the truth; a lifestyle that often ends at best as a modern slave and, at worst, in death.
Human trafficking involves recruitment, harbouring or transporting people into a situation of exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion and forced to work against their will. People are trafficked for many different forms of exploitation such as forced prostitution, forced marriage, forced begging, forced criminality, domestic servitude and even forced organ removal.
Every day, NHS staff come into contact with people from across the globe. With more than one million people accessing NHS funded services every 24 hours, the 1.5million staff in hospitals and communities where people access care, will be confronted with modern slaves.
When we hear the word slavery, we often think of something overseas. But here are the facts: we know there are at least 13,000 modern slaves in the UK. Last year 702 Vietnamese victims were reported together with 947 Albanians and 1,625 UK nationals.
Slavery is everywhere but we simply don’t recognise the signs. It is in our hands, and yet we can be indecisive about whether to get involved. To change that, we do not face a problem of ignorance but of awareness.
The NHS has a significant role to play in combatting modern slavery and supporting victims. But to do this we need to ensure staff understand that modern slavery exists, and we need to ensure staff are confident and able to both recognise the signs and symptoms of both victim and perpetrators and know what to do.
Modern slavery is included in our national safeguarding training for all staff. NHS England and Improvement support a national network for modern slavery that professionals from all regions engage in to sharing intelligence and practice.
NHS Safeguarding has partnered with the Stop the Traffik charity who continually build a picture of stories, trends, hotspots, routes and networks of human trafficking on a global scale. With greater intelligence, they are generating targeted action to disrupt human trafficking networks at their source.
As well as using this to inform our training, we actively promote also promoting the STOP App to instantly report activity where modern slavery may be witnessed.
In addition to following safeguarding policies within your organisations, anyone who may be worried about individuals or groups linked to trafficking or slavery can contact the Modern Slavery Helpline: 08000 121 700 or #SeeItShareIt.
We have done a huge amount in the NHS to raise awareness and build capabilities to contribute to tackling the scourge of human trafficking and modern slavery. This video was widely used three years ago and I ask that you use it again to remind your staff of modern slavery and the NHS.
The tragedy that ended in the horrific deaths of 39 people reminds us of this urgent global issue that needs our attention, vigilance and skill. It also reminds us of the things we take for granted and the air that we breathe.