Human trafficking guidance for health workers

Advice to help NHS staff spot crucial signs.

Health workers will be given new guidance to help them identify signs of human trafficking and exploitation among patients.

The guidelines include advice to help frontline health professionals know what action to take if they have concerns.

More victims of human trafficking and exploitation are being identified in Scotland than ever before. In the first six months of 2019, 188 victims have been identified – a 74% increase on the same period last year.

Given the health risks associated with forced labour and sexual exploitation, NHS staff are in an ideal position to spot and support victims.

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.”


Guidance on human trafficking and exploitation for all health care workers was first published in 2012 before the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 and publication of the statutory Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy in 2017.

The updated guidelines reflect these changes and the increase in the number of victims being identified across Scotland.

Vietnamese, Chinese, Sudanese and Nigerian were the most commonly reported nationalities of potential victims referred from Scotland in 2018.

Risks for trafficking victims include exposure to infectious diseases, repetitive physical, sexual and psychological abuse and chronic deprivation – e.g. of food, sleep and shelter.

The National Referral Mechanism is a UK framework designed to assist in identifying victims of trafficking, and provide them with appropriate care and support.

Read the guidance: Human trafficking and exploitation: what health workers need to know

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