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Male & Female NHS surgical staff are victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape

Updated: Sep 13, 2023


By Reemul Balla Sky News 12.09.2023 - [UK] Almost a third of NHS female surgical staff have been sexually assaulted in the last five years, a new survey has revealed.

The study, published in the British Journal of Surgery (BJS), examined sexual misconduct over the past five years among the UK surgical workforce and found that 63% of women and 23% of men polled have experienced being sexually harassed by colleagues.


Of those, 29.9% of women reported being sexually assaulted - significantly higher than the 6.9% of the male surgical workforce. The assaults ranged from genitals or breasts being touched or groped to rape.


The report also highlighted the amount of sexual coercion reported, with 11% of women "experiencing forced physical contact linked to career opportunities". The survey added that females, who remain a minority in surgery, were more likely to report witnessing sexual misconduct (89.5%) and assault than their male counterparts. Alongside rape at work, it found that "participants in this survey reported rape by colleagues in other work-related contexts, including teaching spaces, conferences, and after-work events with colleagues".


"There are relatively few measures in place to protect the potentially vulnerable in settings such as conferences," the report found.


Likely junior staff are afraid to speak out

The survey of 1,704 participants included different levels of staff - from consultants all the way down to medical students.


But the vast majority of respondents were consultants and more senior members of staff - which the report suggested was because those more junior were often too afraid to speak out.


It also revealed a major discrepancy between men and women in their belief in the ability of bodies such as the General Medical Council (GMC), and National Health Service Trusts to adequately handle issues of sexual misconduct.


Only 15.1% of women regarded the GMC as adequate in their handling of sexual misconduct.

Men's evaluations were higher, although the GMC was still regarded as adequate by less than half of men (48.6%).


Evaluations of National Health Service Trusts were similarly low. Only 15.8% of women rated them as adequate and 44.9% of men. Concerns over 'sexualisation of the workplace'

In its analysis of the survey data, the report concluded that "in the surgical profession, hierarchy mirrors power and responsibility".


It added: "Arguably, an implicit aspect of becoming part of surgical culture is to not draw attention to sexual misconduct.


"The surgical workplace is particularly vulnerable to sexual misconduct with its predominantly male senior workforce, use of strongly hierarchical structures, and high-stress environments.


"Over time, sexualisation of the workplace, through unwanted language, breaches of personal space, and physical violation, shifts accepted norms."


For staff, workplace harassment could be detrimental to their physical and mental health, the report said, with the worst cases even leading to self-harm and victims contemplating suicide.


The BJS researchers have called for action to improve the culture in the surgical workforce and "create adequate mechanisms to deal with perpetrators".


If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.

 
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