The health consequences for those subjected to trafficking can be profound and enduring given its association with physical and psychological harm. Health workers are in a unique position to respond to victims of trafficking and can play a crucial part in improving the immediate and long-term health impact on all those affected1.

A review of the published literature on the understanding of human trafficking amongst healthcare professionals revealed the lack of awareness across the profession and in Medical Schools.

Ross et al (2015)2 aimed to estimate the proportion of National Health Service (NHS) professionals who have come into contact with trafficked people and to measure NHS professionals’ knowledge and confidence to respond to human trafficking in a cross-sectional survey. The study found that 86.8% reported lacking knowledge of what questions to ask to identify potential victims and 78.3% reported that they had insufficient training to assist trafficked people, whilst up to 71% lacked confidence in making appropriate referrals for men, women, and children, respectively, who had been trafficked.  A staggering 95.3% of respondents were unaware of the scale of human trafficking in the UK, and 76.5% were unaware that calling the Police could put patients in more danger.

Furthermore, a study by Arulrajah and Steele (2018)3 requested Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to public UK Medical Schools, which included a preliminary question on education provision, supplemented with follow-up questions exploring the nature, delivery and format of any education, as well as future curriculum development3. With a response rate of 97%, 72% of Medical Schools were confirmed not to provide human trafficking education. Of the Medical Schools which did not provide human trafficking education, almost 70% had no plans to implement any education opportunities. Among those providing teaching, 56% integrated this within the core curriculum and only delivered this within a single year of the degree.


Human trafficking and exploitation, by its very nature, is often a hidden crime, it is an increasing problem in Scotland having been found in every Health Authority.  Human trafficking is illegal in Scotland under The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act4 was unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2015. The Act introduced a single offence of human trafficking for all kinds of exploitation and an offence of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

The Scottish Government has set out an ambitious vision to eliminate human trafficking and exploitation5 which requires a collective response. In Human Trafficking and Exploitation, What health workers need to know1, NHS Health Scotland confirms improving awareness of healthcare workers will help to ensure more victims are identified, helped out of exploitation and provided with appropriate support.  In order to achieve this, research demonstrates that more education on human trafficking will be required of healthcare workers.

Over the coming months the delayed legislative implementation of the provisions within the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, Duty to notify will come into force.  Section 38 of the Act places a duty on specified Scottish public authorities (may include the NHS) to provide information to Police Scotland about people who are, or appear to be, victims of human trafficking or of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.  The Scottish Government consultation on section 38 of the Act ran from 16 June to 6 September 2019 with analysis being published shortly afterwards6.  This would require healthcare workers in Scotland to be much more able to identify patients who present with indicators of human trafficking.


1 NHS Health Scotland Human Trafficking & Exploitation What Health Workers Need to Know
2 Ross C, Dimitrova S, Howard LM, Dewey M, Zimmerman C and Oram S. 2015. Human trafficking and health: a cross-sectional survey of NHS professionals’ contact with victims of human trafficking. Available at:
3 Arulrajah P, Steele S. UK medical education on human trafficking: assessing uptake of the opportunity to shape awareness, safeguarding and referral in the curriculum. BMC Medical Education. 2018;18(1). Available at:
4 Human Trafficking & Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015
5 Scottish Government Human Trafficking & Exploitation Strategy 2017

Stephanie Scullion & Joy M Gillespie

Call to Action
We can all be involved in being part of the solution to modern slavery and human trafficking in Scotland. Some as simple as raising awareness by following SOHTIS on social media and sharing our posts or joining our volunteer hubs, linking us with useful networking contacts and fundraising or donating funds.

Please get in touch to find out how you can join us in bringing freedom.

If you have suspicions, or concerns about anyone in your neighbourhood or your contact the MODERN SLAVERY HELPLINE on 08000 121 700, if there is immediate danger contact

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *