By Agnes Rose
The private hospitals’ trade body and the BMA are among organisations expressing horror at survey findings reporting a high percentage of female surgeons say they are being sexually harassed, assaulted and in some cases raped by colleagues.
Dawn Hodgkins, of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN), said: ‘It’s not just the appalling severity of the incidents reported, but the frequency and scale of the problem is equally damning. There are clearly massive, endemic issues which need rooting out.
‘This must be a wake-up call to make significant and unequivocal changes to the culture which has enabled these behaviours to bed in and become so worryingly normalised.
‘It’s totally unacceptable.’
In a response to research published in the British Journal of Surgery she called on everyone – ‘whether that’s professional bodies, employers or colleagues within and around surgical teams – to take a zero-tolerance approach to this issue’.
She added: ‘This will include taking urgent steps to ensure that we are supporting colleagues to call out this behaviour, to investigate incidents and to make sure appropriate action is taken, so that female colleagues can begin to feel safe and supported.
‘We will be encouraging members and partners to engage swiftly and fully to make the progress which is so clearly needed.’
The Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery survey found a third of NHS female surgical staff had been sexually assaulted by colleagues in the past five years.
BMA equality lead Dr Latifa Patel labelled the scale and severity of sexual assault against female surgeons ‘atrocious’.
Dr Latifah Patel
She said: ‘Doctors who abuse their positions to commit sexual assault have no place in the medical profession. The GMC has to review its outcomes of sexual misconduct cases in order to identify whether institutional sexism is playing a part in how seriously claims are taken.
‘Only then, by working together and being accountable for what has and continues to happen, with the implementation of clearer policies and codes of conduct, can we change the culture that enables sexual harassment in the workplace.’
Dr Patel said the BMA’s ‘Ending Sexism in Medicine Pledge’ had long called for more to be done to require employers to bring in policies that eliminated any form of sexual harassment in the workplace.
‘This survey shows the need more than ever for action to be taken urgently and we will continue to highlight the prevalence of these behaviours being experienced by doctors and the fears around reporting that prevent people from speaking up.
‘It is truly horrifying to continue to hear about the experiences of these women. We encourage them and their colleagues who experience sexual harassment and sexism of any kind to seek support from the BMA. These dreadful actions must be challenged and not be tolerated any longer.’