Health & Lifestyle

Nearly one third of female NHS surgeons have been sexually assaulted by a colleague over the past five years, according to survey

Nearly one third of female NHS surgeons have been sexually assaulted by a colleague over the past five years, according to survey

  • 90% of women and 80% of men reported witnessing sexual harassment at work 

Nearly a third of female NHS surgeons have allegedly been sexually assaulted by a colleague over the past five years, according to a survey.

The study was the largest of its kind ever conducted into the surgical profession and was commissioned by the independent Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery, The Times reported.

There were 11 instances of rape reported by surgeons who participated in the anonymous online survey which had 1,436 responses.

Ninety per cent of women and 81 per cent of men who participated reported having witnessed sexual misconduct in the workplace.

More than 40 per cent of women reported receiving ‘uninvited comments’ about their body from colleagues, 29 per cent claimed to have experienced unwanted physical advances and 38 per cent said they endured sexual banter at work.

The research also claimed that sexual coercion is a ‘major concern’ within the industry with 11 per cent of female surgeons alleging they have experienced ‘forced physical contact linked to career opportunities’. 

Nearly a third of female NHS surgeons have allegedly been sexually assaulted by a colleague over the past five years, according to a survey

The study was the largest of its kind ever conducted into the surgical profession and was commissioned by the independent Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery. Ninety 90 per cent of women and 81 per cent of men who participated reported having witnessed sexual misconduct in the workplace (stock photo)

The study was the largest of its kind ever conducted into the surgical profession and was commissioned by the independent Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery. Ninety 90 per cent of women and 81 per cent of men who participated reported having witnessed sexual misconduct in the workplace (stock photo)

‘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 report states, according to the newspaper. 

It also argues that an ‘overwhelming majority’ of female surgeons do not believe their NHS trust, GMC or the Royal Colleges will protect them.

Furthermore, the paper warns that the ‘apparent normalisation of sexual behaviour’ in the industry compromises patient safety.

The researchers argued that perpetrators who target their colleagues are ‘more likely to transgress sexual boundaries with patients’, the Times reported. 

The report also warns this could create an ‘unsafe working environment’ and ‘unsafe space’ for patients.

One of the report’s authors has called for reform in the way sexual misconduct is reported and investigated, alleging it is vital that the industry takes a ‘zero-tolerance approach’.

The Department of Health and Social Care told the Times that Secretary Steve Barclay is ‘clear that sexual violence or misconduct of any kind is unacceptable and has no place in the NHS.’

The agency claims Mr Barclay is ‘working closely’ with NHS leaders to ‘root out this unacceptable behaviour and ensure services are always safe for staff and patients’.

The statement added: ‘Signatories commit to taking and enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to any unwanted, inappropriate and/or harmful sexual behaviours within the workplace.’ 

Dr Binta Sultan, Chair of NHS England’s National Clinical Network of Sexual Assault and Abuse Services said: ‘No one should experience sexual abuse or assault in the workplace, but unfortunately we know inequality and sexual misconduct exists and is experienced disproportionately by our female colleagues across the NHS.

‘While this report makes incredibly difficult reading, it presents clear evidence of why we must take more action to address these issues.

‘We are committed to working with our partners to ensure that healthcare environments are safe for all staff and patients, and we are already taking significant steps to do this including by providing more support to those who have suffered harassment or inappropriate behaviour thanks to a first of its kind sexual safety charter.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘The Health and Social Care Secretary is clear that sexual violence or misconduct of any kind is unacceptable and has no place in the NHS. He is working closely with NHS leaders to root out this unacceptable behaviour and ensure services are always safe for staff and patients.

‘In partnership with the Royal Colleges, staff, regulators and trade unions, the NHS recently launched the healthcare system’s first organisational sexual safety charter. Signatories commit to taking and enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to any unwanted, inappropriate and/or harmful sexual behaviours within the workplace.’


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