‘Disturbing’ figures show widespread sexual harassment of NHS workers

One in four health workers had experienced unwelcome sexual advances, union finds

NHS worker conditions

Shocking levels of sexual harassment against NHS workers has been revealed in a survey by the union Unison, painting a “disturbing picture” of working conditions for many in the health service.

One in four of those surveyed said they had experienced unwelcome sexual advances, while half reported being leered at or been the target of suggestive gestures. While sexual assault was reported by almost 30% of all health workers who’d experienced sexual harassment.

The survey conducted by the UK’s biggest union Unison revealed how NHS staff including ambulance workers, 111 call handlers, porters, nurses and cleaners, had been shown porn and offered money for sex at work.

The most common issue was receiving crude ‘banter’ or ‘jokes’ which was reported by three in five workers who had experienced some form of harassment. While over half reported someone invading their personal space and receiving unwanted comments about their clothing and appearance. 

Chief Nurse Professor of the Royal College of Nursing, Nicola Ranger, said the figures painted an “incredibly disturbing picture” for nursing staff who should “expect the NHS to be a safe place”.

She warned that even more nurses were at risk of leaving the profession if employers don’t do more to protect staff and create an environment where they can confidently report incidents. 

A midwife in Yorkshire and Humberside shared her experience with the survey: “A senior doctor used to take advantage when I was in one of the consulting rooms on my own by invading my space, hugging, kissing, touching in a sexual way, despite constant requests for them to stop. I did not feel confident to raise these assaults with anyone senior.”

Responding in the survey, a nurse in the West Midlands said: “I’ve had comments about my hair, how I look and how they would love to have sex with me, which reminded me of when I was raped at a young age by a male patient.” 

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea called on employers to take swift action when incidents are flagged, regardless of whether the sexual harassment has come from a patient or a colleague. 

“No one should ever have to endure such despicable behaviour, and certainly not in their place of work,” said McAnea. 

“But NHS staff often put up with this appalling abuse, not reporting it because they don’t believe they’ll be taken seriously.”

More than half of those subjected to harassment said the incidents involved colleagues, while two fifths were from patients and 16% from management. Only half of the health workers surveyed had reported the sexual harassment to their employers. 

Unison has called for a change in the law so employers are also responsible for protecting their staff against harassment from patients or those working for contractors.

It comes on the first day of Unison’s annual health conference which will run from today until Wednesday 10, April.

Image credit: Flickr / Creative Commons

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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