Women's Journal

Parliamentary Inquiry Launched to Address Sexual Harassment of Female Surgeons within the NHS

Image Commercially Licensed from: DepositPhotos
Image Commercially Licensed from: DepositPhotos

Alarming Revelations Prompt Investigation into Disturbing Incidents

In response to recent alarming revelations, Members of Parliament (MPs) have initiated an official investigation to address the pervasive issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault experienced by female surgeons within the National Health Service (NHS). This groundbreaking inquiry comes as BBC News has reported incidents of women enduring sexual harassment, even within the confines of operating theaters while medical procedures are underway.

The first major report on this distressing matter shed light on female trainee surgeons being subjected to various forms of abuse by senior male counterparts. The Health and Social Care Committee has stepped forward to investigate these deeply troubling incidents. Steve Brine, the committee’s chair, expressed his shock at the revelations and emphasized the NHS’s responsibility to ensure that hospitals are safe environments for all staff members. Furthermore, he stressed the need for accountability, demanding that action be taken against those responsible.

Steve Brine stated, “The NHS has a duty to ensure that hospitals are safe spaces for all staff to work in and to hold managers to account to ensure that action is taken against those responsible. We expect to look into this when we consider leadership in the NHS in our future work.”

Please note that this article contains graphic details of the incidents. For individuals affected by these issues, there is support available.

Female surgeons have reported distressing incidents, including being fondled inside their surgical scrubs, male surgeons wiping their brows on their breasts, and even men rubbing against them inappropriately. Shockingly, some have been offered career opportunities in exchange for sexual favors, and others have been victims of rape.

The British Medical Association (BMA), representing doctors, has decried the treatment of women surgeons as “atrocious.” The Royal College of Surgeons of England has acknowledged that this problem is widespread and a source of great embarrassment for the medical profession.

Dr. Latifa Patel, a representative from the BMA, expressed her dismay, saying, “It is appalling that women in surgery are being subjected to sexual assault and sexual misconduct from their colleagues, at work and often while they are trying to care for patients. The impact this will have on their wellbeing for years to come as well as their careers is profound.”

Dr. Liz O’Riordan, a retired surgeon, has courageously shared her own experiences of enduring years of sexual harassment during her career. She recounted incidents ranging from a consultant’s inappropriate questions and propositions in the operating theater to a married consultant’s disturbing advances at a Christmas party. Dr. O’Riordan’s experiences resonate with the findings of a comprehensive survey involving over 1,400 surgical staff, half of whom were women. This research, published in the British Journal of Surgery and commissioned by the independent Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery, revealed that nearly two-thirds of female surgeons had experienced sexual harassment. Shockingly, a third had been sexually assaulted by their colleagues in the past five years.

A prevalent theme in these distressing accounts is the fear among female surgeons that reporting such incidents would jeopardize their careers. Many lacked confidence that the NHS would take effective action to address the issue.

One surgeon, who chose to remain anonymous, recounted a particularly distressing incident early in her career when she had the least power in the operating theater. A senior male surgeon, visibly sweating, made inappropriate physical contact, burying his head into her breasts to wipe his brow. She described feeling frozen and humiliated, unable to comprehend the situation.

Another common concern was a lack of faith in institutions such as NHS Trusts, the General Medical Council (which manages the UK’s register of doctors), and the Royal Colleges (which represent medical specialties) to effectively address this pervasive problem.

Dr. Binta Sultan, representing NHS England, acknowledged the difficulty of reading the report and stressed that it presented clear evidence of the urgent need for more action to ensure that hospitals are safe environments for all.

The Department of Health issued a firm statement, unequivocally stating that sexual violence is “unacceptable” and has “no place in the NHS.”

This parliamentary inquiry signals a crucial step towards addressing the deeply troubling issue of sexual harassment and assault within the medical field, as survivors, advocates, and policymakers unite to create a safer and more equitable healthcare environment.