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Survey uncovers sexual harassment faced by NHS nurses

Survey uncovers sexual harassment faced by NHS nurses

A Unison survey has revealed extensive sexual harassment suffered by NHS workers including nurses.

According to the research, nurses have faced abusive behaviour from both patients and colleagues, with incidents including staff being shown pornographic images and being offered money for sex.

One nurse from the North East told the survey that she had experienced unwanted sexual comments and physical contact as a ‘joke’ from a doctor.

Another nurse from the West Midlands reported receiving sexual comments that triggered memories of a previous attack by a male patient.

The results of the survey of 12,243 health workers – released to coincide with the opening of Unison’s annual health conference in Brighton – revealed that one in 10 (10%) healthcare workers reported experiences of sexual harassment. This included being touched or kissed, demands for sex in return for favours and derogatory comments.

Sexual assault was reported by almost a third (29%) of all the health workers who had experienced sexual harassment, while half (50%) said they had been leered at or been the target of suggestive gestures.

A quarter (25%) said they had suffered unwelcome sexual advances, propositions or demands for sexual favours.

More than a quarter (27%) of the harassment incidents occurred within the past 12 months, 19% between one and three years ago, and the rest were three or more years ago.

For those workers subjected to harassment, more than half (56%) said incidents involved colleagues, two fifths experienced problems with patients and 16% of the incidents were caused by managers.

However, half the staff (51%) experiencing sexual harassment had not reported the incidents to their employer.

The main reason for this was a fear of being considered ‘over sensitive’ (60%), followed by a lack of trust in the process (53%) and a feeling that their employer would not act on their complaint (48%).

According to Christina McAnea, Unison general secretary, more must be done to protect staff from sexual harassment.

‘No one should ever have to endure such despicable behaviour, and certainly not in their place of work,’ she said.

‘Employers must take swift action when workers flag up incidents regardless of whether the sexual harassment has come from a patient or a colleague. Otherwise, this completely unacceptable behaviour will simply continue,’ Ms McAnea added.

Professor Nicola Ranger, chief nurse at the Royal College of Nursing, said the survey painted an ‘incredibly disturbing picture’.

She added: ‘Employers must do all they can to protect staff as they do their jobs and create an environment where they can confidently report incidents and know they will be taken seriously, and all appropriate action will be taken.

‘Otherwise, our health and care service will suffer the effects of even more nursing staff leaving the profession.’

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers, described the survey findings as ‘deeply disturbing’ and agreed that more must be done to prevent unacceptable behaviour towards staff.

‘All staff must be and feel safe at work,’ he said. ‘This includes feeling confident to speak up and raise concerns.’

He also encouraged healthcare organisations to sign up to the NHS sexual safety charter, which was launched last year.

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