Survey finds almost one in three female surgeons have been sexually assaulted

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

Eleven instances of rape were reported by surgeons who took part in the study, published in the British Journal of Surgery.

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

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

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.”

Compiled by the University of Exeter from 1,436 responses to an anonymous online survey, the survey was commissioned by The Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery – a group of NHS surgeons, clinicians and researchers who say they are “working to raise awareness of sexual misconduct in surgery, to bring about cultural and organisational change”.

TalkTV's Julia Hartley-Brewer said: "I am very surprised, because in hospitals we've got non-stop equality and diversity, human rights managers...and according to this survey, most women have no faith that the NHS Trust, the Royal College of Surgeons or the General Medical Council would protest them."

Speaking to Julia, retired surgeon Dr Liz O’Riordan: “I was sexually harassed in half of my jobs! I've scrubbed with someone who asked who I was sleeping with because I looked like 'I could go a round or two'."

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.

Tim Mitchell, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said such behaviour had “no place… anywhere in the NHS”.

Describing it as “abhorrent”, he said: “We will not tolerate such behaviour in our ranks.”

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