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A fifth of doctors have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, finds survey

A fifth of UK doctors and other medical staff are estimated to have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment while at work in the past three years, according to a survey.

In 17% of cases, patients were the culprits, said the survey by medical website Medscape, which was carried out with 1,378 medical staff – including 1,138 doctors and 178 GPs, plus physician associates, medical students and medical academics.

Of those who had experienced sexual harassment, just over half (56%) of the survey participants did not report the incident.

The survey also revealed just 22% of the participants were aware of their workplace’s grievance procedures. Meanwhile, less than half trusted that their workplace had well-trained, competent investigators.

GPs formed 13% of the total number of staff surveyed, and 5% of the overall figure to have experienced harassment.

Just over three quarters of all participants who identified having been sexually harassed by a colleague said that it had come from another doctor, with one in ten citing harassment from a nurse.

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Across all participants who had experienced sexual harrassment from patients, the most widely-observed types of this were patients acting in an overtly sexual manner (53%), asking the doctor on a date (29%) or trying to ‘grope or rub against’ the doctor (24%).

The findings also reiterated the significant impact of sexual harassment, with 81% of participants agreeing that it negatively impacts patient care.

It also transpired that almost half (49%) avoided working with specific colleagues; more than a quarter (29%) contemplated quitting their job; and approximately 40% adopted negative coping mechanisms, such as drinking alcohol or binge-eating.

Dr Rob Hicks, a GP in London who co-authored the survey report, told Pulse: ‘My overall response to the results is sadness and disappointment that this is still happening within our profession.

‘There are enough pressures within healthcare without these additional concerns, and it’s striking that many had considered changing jobs or avoiding those responsible. This is extra difficult within general practice, because it’s often an isolated experience, with a smaller pool of people to turn to than in hospital medicine.

He added: ‘It’s important that GPs feel confident enough to take steps to deal with this situation if they find themselves in it. This might be understanding their partnership agreement; confiding in a trusted colleague such as the practice manager; or seeking support from the BMA, which has also been dedicating great focus against sexual harassment recently.’

The BMA has previously highlighted the NHS’s ‘persistent culture of fear’ in its new vision for reforming the healthcare system. It also launched an ‘urgent’ two-month-long investigation into sexism allegations within the BMA itself earlier this year.