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Counterterrorism in healthcare

Counterterrorism in healthcare

The radicalisation of social policy in Europe

Counterterrorism has been revolutionised in the twenty-first century. Across Europe, counter-radicalisation programs now extend directly into the public sector, incorporating health, education and social services staff within the early detection of possible ‘extremists’. Professor Charlotte Heath-Kelly’s research has delivered the first empirical studies of how healthcare workers are trained to perform a counterterrorism role, shining a light on the blurring of medical and professional ethics in ‘securitised healthcare’. This research has fed into high-level governmental discussions on the ethics and efficacy of UK counter-terrorism measures, bringing more accountability to important issues.

The Challenge

In many countries, doctors, nurses and social workers are asked to report clients that they feel might be in the process of being radicalised, to (often police-led) multi-agency structures. As this is not a traditional professional duty for care professionals, Professor Heath-Kelly’s research investigates how and why national security has become part of the professional duties of health and social care workers.

The challenges of implementing counter-radicalisation through healthcare systems involve data-sharing between health authorities and the police, the stigmatisation of racialised and precarious communities, and the co-option of safeguarding standards to serve a security agenda.

Our Approach

Working with leading healthcare advocacy groups and healthcare partners, Professor Heath-Kelly’s research has:

  • Produced the first empirical study of how healthcare staff in the Midlands have been trained to detect and refer potential extremists;
  • Exposed and analysed the creation of ‘Vulnerability Support Hubs’ in England, which place NHS mental health professionals inside counterterrorism policing to manage Prevent referrals;
  • Contributed to calculating the ratio of racialised referrals to Vulnerability Support Hubs compared to those recorded as ‘white’;
  • Produced detailed ethical guidance on the challenges posed by counterterrorism duties in frontline services.

Our Impact 

Professor Heath-Kelly’s ‘Counterterrorism in the NHS’ report contributed to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ enquiry into the Counterterrorism and Border Security bill, and her evidence is directly cited in support of the JCHR’s call for an independent review of the Prevent Strategy. In 2019, she delivered training to the Scottish government and Scottish NHS leaders on developments within the English NHS, relating to Prevent.

Subsequently, Professor Heath-Kelly was commissioned to write a report on the ‘drivers of extremism’ for the UK’s Commission for Countering Extremism and was an expert consultant to the Cabinet Office’s submission to the Independent Review of the Prevent Strategy.

In 2021, Professor Heath-Kelly collaborated with the healthcare NGO, MedAct, on a report exposing the operations of ‘Vulnerability Support Hubs’ in the UK and the ethical challenges of deploying psychiatrists and psychologists in the fight against terrorism. The report received extensive coverage on Sky News, Al Jazeera, and in the Guardian.


Discover more about Professor Heath-Kelly’s work on Counterterrorism duties in health and social care