A comprehensive analysis of NHS staff has unearthed deeply distressing accounts of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and even rape of female surgeons by their colleagues.
In an interview with BBC, victims who recounted incidents of sexual assault occurring during surgical procedures.
The study’s findings point to a disconcerting pattern of female trainee surgeons enduring abuse at the hands of senior male surgeons within NHS hospitals.
The revelations have sent shockwaves through the healthcare community, with the Royal College of Surgeons describing the results as “truly shocking.”
Sexual harassment and assault have been described as an open secret within the field of surgery.
The problem extends beyond inappropriate comments, with cases involving fondling beneath surgical scrubs, male surgeons wiping their brows on female colleagues’ breasts, and even men leveraging career opportunities in exchange for sexual favors.
This disturbing analysis was conducted by the University of Exeter, the University of Surrey, and the Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery.
Dr. Christopher Begeny from the University of Exeter, commented, “Our findings are likely to shake the confidence of the public in the surgical profession.”
Victims Speak Out:
Judith, a consultant surgeon, recounted her experience when she was sexually assaulted early in her career: “He just turned round and buried his head right into my breasts and I realized he was wiping his brow on me. You just freeze right, ‘why is his face in my cleavage?'”
Anne, who experienced a non-consensual sexual encounter, shared, “I trusted him, I looked up to him. So, he walked me back to the place I was staying, I thought he wanted to talk and yet he just suddenly turned on me and he had sex with me.”
A Culture of Silence:
It is widely accepted there is a culture of silence around such behavior. Surgical training relies on learning from senior colleagues in the operating theater, and women have told us it is risky to speak out about those who have power and influence over their future careers.
The report, which is being published in the British Journal of Surgery, is the first attempt to get a sense of the scale:
- 63% of women surgeons had been the target of sexual harassment from colleagues.
- 30% of women had been sexually assaulted by a colleague.
- At least 11 incidents of rape were reported.
- 90% of women, and 81% of men, had witnessed some form of sexual misconduct.
While the report shows men are also subject to some of this behavior (24% had been sexually harassed), it concludes men and women surgeons are “living different realities.”
Speaking out about the report’s findings, Prof. Carrie Newlands, a consultant surgeon from the University of Surrey, said, “The commonest scenario is that a junior female trainee is abused by a senior male perpetrator, who is often their supervisor. And that results in a culture of silence where people are in real fear of their future and their careers if they do speak up.”
A Call for Change:
The pair of reports suggest the relatively lower proportion of women surgeons (around 28%), combined with surgery being deeply hierarchical, gives some men significant power and this combines badly with the high-pressure environment of surgery.
“We need a major change in investigation processes so they become external and independent, and are trusted in order for healthcare to become a safer place to work,” says Prof. Newlands.
Tim Mitchell, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the findings were “truly shocking” and “incredibly upsetting.”
Dr. Binta Sultan, from NHS England, said the report made “incredibly difficult reading” and presented “clear evidence” that more action was needed to make hospitals “safe for all.”
The General Medical Council last month updated its professional standards for doctors.
Its chief executive Charlie Massey said “acting in a sexual way towards patients or colleagues is unacceptable” and that “serious misconduct is incompatible” with continuing to practice medicine in the UK.
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