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One in ten healthcare workers has experienced sexual harassment, survey finds

One in ten healthcare workers has experienced sexual harassment, survey finds
By Beth Gault
8 April 2024

Around 10% of healthcare workers in the NHS have reported experiences of sexual harassment, a survey by trade union Unison has found.

Of these, 29% said they had been sexually assaulted and 50% said they had been the target of suggestive gestures or leered at. A further 25% said they had suffered unwelcome sexual advances, propositions or demands for sexual favours.

Some staff members also reported having their personal space invaded (57%), unwanted comments about their clothing or appearance (53%), unwelcome messages of a sexual nature (15%) and exposure to offensive material such as pornographic images (8%).

The survey, carried out between 19 February and 8 March 2024, had over 12,000 responses from staff working in healthcare in the UK, including nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, admin workers and cleaners. More than a quarter of incidents happened within the past 12 months, 19% were between one and three years ago, and the rest were over three years ago.

More than half (56%) of those who had experienced sexual harassment said the incidents involved colleagues, and 16% said the experiences were caused by managers.

However, over half of staff (51%) also said they had not reported these incidents, the main reason for which was the fear of being considered ‘over-sensitive’, or a lack of trust in the process. Almost half (48%) also said they had a feeling their employer would not act on their complaint.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘No one should ever have to endure such despicable behaviour, and certainly not in their place of work.

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

‘More must be done to protect nurses, healthcare assistants, cleaners and other NHS staff from sexual harassment, reassure them their complaints will be fully investigated and action taken against the perpetrators.

‘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.’

Last month the NHS staff survey revealed similar figures, suggesting that 8% of staff had been the target of at least one incident of unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature over the past 12 months.

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