MPs continue to debate an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would help prevent goods and services associated with modern slavery and human trafficking from entering the supply chain

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The NHS will be prohibited from using goods and services linked to modern slavery and human trafficking, the Government has pledged.

The move follows concerns that medical supplies sourced from China, including personal protective equipment, may have been made with forced labour. New regulations would set out how procurement managers must assess the level of risk associated with individual suppliers, and could lead to some manufacturers being blacklisted.

The requirement would be enshrined in law under an amendment to the Health and Care Bill currently in its final parliamentary stages.

Combatting ‘evils of modern slavery’

The DHSC would help to ensure that the NHS was not buying or using goods or services produced by or involving any kind of slave labour, it said. It described the move as ‘a significant step forward in the UK’s mission to crack down on the evils of modern slavery wherever it is found’.

England’s Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: ‘I want this to be a turning point in the UK’s mission to eradicate slavery and human trafficking in supply chains around the globe. As the biggest public procurer in the country, the NHS is well placed to spearhead this work.’

In evidence to the Commons Public Accounts Committee last month, Jonathan Marron, Director General for the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities at the DHSC, said supplies of more than three billion gloves were currently held in the supply chain pending an investigation into modern slavery allegations made against one manufacturer.

A ‘significant advance’

The amendment to the Bill is being scrutinised by MPs in the House of Commons. It would give the Health Secretary scope to make any appropriate provision ‘with a view to eradicating the use in the health service in England of goods or services that are tainted by slavery and human trafficking’.

Luke de Pulford, head of the anti-slavery charity Arise, described the amendment as ‘easily the most significant advance in supply chain regulation since the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, and in many ways goes much further’.

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who campaigned for a change in the law alongside colleagues in the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said the development was a ‘significant move’. All Government departments should adopt the same practice, he said, to send a ‘powerful signal to those around the world who exploit and terrorise those weaker than themselves [that] the swords of justice are on their trail’.

This article was originally published on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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