Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

A third of NHS surgical staff sexually assaulted in the last five years

Almost one in three female surgeons working in the NHS have been sexually assaulted in the last five years, according to new data.

Eleven instances of rape were reported by surgeons who took part in the study, which was compiled by the University of Exeter and commissioned by The Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery.

The survey found 29% of women had experienced unwanted physical advances at work with more than 40% receiving uninvited comments about their body and 38% receiving sexual banter at work.

Almost 90% of women surveyed said they had witnessed sexual misconduct in the past five years with 81% of men giving the same answer.

The largest study of its kind analysed 1,436 responses to an anonymous online survey.

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The report concluded: ‘Sexual misconduct occurs frequently and appears to go unchecked in the surgical environment owing to a combination of a deeply hierarchical structure and a gender and power imbalance.

‘The result is an unsafe working environment and an unsafe space for patients.’

Consultant surgeon Tamzin Cuming, who chairs the Women in Surgery forum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the report presents ‘some of the most appalling facts ever to come out’ about the field and ‘represents a MeToo moment for surgery’.

Writing in The Times, she said: ‘Our research reveals an environment where sexual assault, harassment and rape can occur among staff working in surgery but allows it to be ignored because the system protects those carrying it out rather than those affected.

‘We need urgent change in the oversight of how healthcare investigates itself.’

She called for the creation of a national implementation panel to oversee action on the report’s recommendations and for incidents of sexual misconduct to be independently investigated.

She said: ‘No one should need to call for a code of conduct that says, in essence, ‘please do not molest your work colleagues or students’, and yet this is one of the actions our report recommends.

‘The report is measured, its recommendations achievable, but this shouldn’t disguise the anger and frustration felt by many in our profession.’

The results have been presented to NHS England, the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association.

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