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Sexual abusers in NHS ‘untouchable’, female doctors report

Sexual abuse is normalised in the NHS, a study has found

A group of female NHS doctors have said known perpetrators of sexual violence are tolerated or regarded as untouchable.

Victims of abuse within healthcare, mostly female junior doctors, felt gaslit and victimised, a new report by campaign group Surviving in Scrubs has found. 

The study looked at 174 incidents of sexism, sexual harassment, assault and rape reported anonymously on its website.

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Over three quarters of the alleged perpetrators were doctors, of whom more than 77% were consultants. 

Meanwhile, 62% of victims were doctors, of which 89% were junior.

The report shows how power dynamics are being abused within the NHS, according to Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of gender equality charity, the Fawcett Society.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "The NHS is a service that should be safe for everyone. But far too often, we hear stories like the ones in this study about violence perpetrated by men in some of its most esteemed positions.

"Hierarchies of seniority in medical environments should exist to keep people safe; abusing those power dynamics is reprehensible. We can only begin to imagine the scale of talent lost when women are forced out of the medical profession due to sexual misconduct.”

Victims reported that perpetrators were notorious, with one described as “the Jimmy Saville of the surgical community".

One victim said: “On talking to another female senior, I was informed that he was known for this behaviour, that he’d got away with so much before and he was capable of ruining careers.”

Thomas Beale, a partner specialising in bullying and harassment claims at law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp said the NHS is not doing enough to protect whistleblowers and victims who report assault.

He told HR magazine: “Despite having a whistleblowing policy and hotline in place for those who wish to report misconduct, it is clear that managers within the NHS are not doing enough to protect those who raise concerns.

“The implementation of independent reporting and investigative mechanisms would be highly beneficial to empower victims to come forward with allegations, without fear of facing repercussions.”

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Olchawski added that the Worker Protection Act means the NHS has a legal duty to prevent this kind of harassment.

She said: "We were so proud to work with Wera Hobhouse this year on the Worker Protection Act which came into law last month. This act creates a duty for employers, including the NHS, to prevent sexual harassment in their workplaces. 

“We urge the NHS, and all employers, to take urgent action to ensure they are preventing sexual harassment in their workplaces so that stories like the ones in this study become a thing of the past."