New Clause 35 - Provision of NHS services to victims of modern slavery

Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 14 October 2014.

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‘Where a provider of services, to which section 175 of the National Health Service Act 2006 relates, believes that a person may be a victim of slavery or human trafficking, no charge may be made under that section for services from that provider to that person.’—(Sarah Teather.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Liberal Democrat, Brent Central

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I will be as brief as I can. The new clause was tabled in the names of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate and myself to probe issues around access to health care. Earlier, the Minister said health care workers are particularly important in carrying out front-line identification, but they can do that only if people access the health care system, if they are not afraid to access it and if they are not turned away, fairly or unfairly. There are exemptions from NHS charges for victims of trafficking, but they are in place only for people who are recognised as victims or potential victims by the national referral mechanism, and, following our earlier discussion, we know that an enormous number of people are not covered by that. As I said, health care workers are absolutely key in identifying victims.

Last year, I visited the Doctors of the World clinic in east London. It does a phenomenal amount of work with people who have no recourse to public funds, who have been turned away or who are afraid of accessing health care. It is clear that an enormous number of people are extremely vulnerable, many of whom staff at the clinic say have been trafficked, but they are not accessing the health care system. Some have been turned away, and some are just afraid. What they are really afraid of is that accessing the health care system will result in their being reported to the Home Office and deported. Will the Minister please say something about the work she is doing to ensure that provision is joined up and that any charges introduced in the NHS do not have the impact I have described?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hope that I can quickly give my hon. Friend some comfort. The national referral mechanism review is currently considering what support provision  victims of trafficking and slavery should be provided with. I would not wish to pre-empt the recommendations of the review when we are about to receive fuller recommendations on the approach to victim support, including health care. The Department of Health is also looking at whether victims of slavery who have not entered the NRM process can be exempted from charges for NHS services. The NHS is a large organisation, and currently not all front-line workers would be confident in identifying a victim of modern slavery. We are working with the Department of Health to build on existing training and ensure that suitable expertise and processes are in place before making such a large-scale change. I am grateful to her and to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate for tabling and speaking to the new clause, and on the basis of that reassurance, I hope she will feel able to withdraw it.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Liberal Democrat, Brent Central

I shall certainly withdraw it. I would be grateful if I could have a discussion with the Minster, and perhaps also with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate when he returns, because this is a really important issue. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.