Modern slavery: a call to action

Earlier this week, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner published his annual report for 2015-2016 showing progress that organisations are making to reduce modern slavery across the UK. In this blog, Hilary Garratt, Director of Nursing and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England talks about the ongoing work to help raise awareness of modern slavery and how to take action across the NHS.

Every day, NHS staff come into contact with people from across the globe. With more than one million people accessing NHS funded services every 36 hours, the 1.5million staff who work in our NHS, not just in hospitals, but in places where people live their lives, will come into contact with modern slaves.

When we hear the word slavery, we often think of something overseas. But here are the facts; we know that there are 13,000 modern slaves in the UK. They are often hidden in domestic service, in our high streets working in nail bars, food outlets car washes, factories, fields and our shorelines where the fishing industry is active.

Slavery is all around us, but we simply don’t recognise the signs. It is in our hands, and yet we can be indecisive about whether or not to get involved. To change that, we do not face a problem of ignorance but of awareness.

It was during my time working in the Calais refugee jungle this year that I witnessed the reality of how our fellow humans, living through unimaginable trauma, are so easily exploited. I saw with my own eyes, young boys and girls being lured into the hands of criminals for want of a better life.

The sight of this happening so shamelessly in the jungle, a place that has no rules or protection, is something that will always remain with me. I recall myself and co-workers feeling powerless to act and for myself, the shame of knowing that some of these children and young adults will, like other slaves, end up in our country.

The UK has a reputation and rich history of having some of the strongest laws in the world to combat modern slavery. However, the law offers little protection unless people and organisations work together on a number of levels.

The NHS has a significant role to play in combatting modern slavery and supporting victims. But to do this we need to ensure that staff understand that modern slavery exists, and we need to ensure that staff are confident and able to both recognise the signs and symptoms of both victim and perpetrators and know what to do.

Today is Anti-Slavery awareness day and I am delighted to be able to share some of the fantastic work that NHS England is leading to raise awareness and take action on modern slavery across the NHS.

In the last 12 months we have worked closely with the government’s Independent Anti- Slavery Commissioner ensuring that the NHS England led Anti-Slavery programme aligns to the national priorities set by Commissioner.

As part of the NHS England programme, we have today published a video that will support staff to understand and respond to modern slavery. It portrays the signs that victims present with and the impact that each and every individual working in the NHS can have in keeping present and potential future victims of modern slavery safe.

We will ensure that all NHS staff have access to formal training on modern slavery which will provide the latest information and the skills to deal with it. We will work with NHS funded organisations to ensure modern slavery is taken seriously so it features prominently in safeguarding agendas.

From today, NHS England is also leading on a Twitter awareness raising campaign and in partnership with the Royal College of Nursing, participating in a kick start event that will explore with a range of professional how to drive awareness and skill development through the UK countries.

Please do stop and think for a moment on this important day and at the very least, find just 10 minutes to watch the powerful video and chat to a colleague about what you can do to support the thousands of modern slaves, our fellow human beings, who live in our communities, who use services we provide, commission and support. Let us know what you think and join us on Twitter @NHSEngland, #EndSlavery2016 where we will continue our conversation.

Hilary Garratt

Hilary Garratt CBE, BSc, MSc, RGN, SCPHN (RHV), PGCE is the Deputy Chief Nursing Officer NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Hilary leads the implementation of a range of national programmes that focus on safeguarding vulnerable people and programmes that support the professional development and leadership of the nursing profession.

Hilary is a registered Nurse and Health Visitor, with 36 years’ experience of working in clinical, public health and Executive leadership roles in the NHS. Hilary has held a number of Executive Director posts across both commissioning and provider organisations in addition to holding and Deputy Chief Executive post for both. Hilary has been working at National Director level for the last 7 years.

In addition to her professional life, Hilary enjoys volunteering at the front line and also for the third sector. From 2013 – 2017 Hilary worked for BBC Children in Need as a committee member that undertook grant making for the North of England. Hilary also engages in hands on volunteering, working with the homeless and other vulnerable groups in her home city.

Hilary received a CBE in the 2017 New Years Honours for services to Nursing and her national work to safeguard some of the most vulnerable people in society. In 2018 Hilary was nominated as one of the country’s 400 Women of Achievement and Inspiration.

Follow Hilary on Twitter: @HilaryGarratt.


  1. Rachel Wood says:

    Such a real and terrible problem, I will make it my new years resolution to work to raise an awareness of the issues and sign post nurses to support and resources so that they know what to do.

  2. M Browne says:

    Glad that Modern Slavery is at last on the nursing agenda, It has been since the care act 2014 came into being however i think our voices are not yet loud enough!