Welcome back to our case of the week. Last week we looked at whether an employee can agree to leave the business and bring a claim for unfair dismissal. Those that missed it can find it here. This week we’re looking at results of a recent survey of sexual misconduct in the medical profession.
The British Journal of Surgery recently published shocking results of a survey showing 63.3% of female surgeons and 23.7% of male surgeons have been sexually harassed by colleagues. The survey also showed almost a third of female surgeons report having been sexually assaulted by a colleague.
Findings of the investigation show NHS trusts were failing to protect their staff and patients from sexual harassment. These results come shortly after another recent study evidencing more than 35,000 sexual safety incidents were reported to 212 NHS trusts in England from 2017 to 2022.
In light of this, the British Medical Association (‘BMA’) has an ‘Ending Sexism Pledge’ and the General Medical Council (‘GMC’) is updating its ‘Good Medical Practice’ guidance. 90% of female doctors who completed the BMA survey stated they had experienced sexism within the last two years. The guidance update by the GMC is the first major update in 10 years with sexual harassment of colleagues being covered for the first time. It reminds doctors that they ‘must not act in a sexual way towards colleagues with the effect or purpose of causing offence, embarrassment, humiliation or distress’. Something the GMC probably thought goes without saying! The guidance also sets out what doctors should do if they witness bullying or harassment.
The GMC’s Chief Executive has said ‘there is absolutely no place for sexism, sexual harassment, or any form of sexual misconduct, either within or outside the workplace and where cases are raised with us, we will look at all of the evidence and if proved, doctors will face appropriate consequences.’ There is concern for whether institutional sexism is a factor of how seriously claims are being taken, so the GMC is reviewing its outcomes of sexual misconduct cases. The BMA also recognises how important support is for those involved, whilst reviewing their decision-making guidance and providing specialist training for staff.
These cases will have a tremendous impact on the surgeons and witnesses involved, coupled with the fear of speaking out and how this will affect their careers. These actions risk bringing the profession into disrepute with loss of public trust and confidence.
This survey is a reminder of how important it is to have clear policies and codes of conduct for employees at any level. Policies not only raise awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace but can define what constitutes it.
Urgent action is required by the GMC and BMA to improve professional standards for doctors by encouraging employers to review their policies and provide staff training. These statistics indicate a need for change in workplace culture in a bid to eliminate any form of sexual harassment in healthcare.
If you or someone you know are dealing with any of the issues mentioned above, please contact a member of our team who will be able to assist.