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NHS staff to be asked about sexual harassment for the first time

Published on: 6 Sep 2023

NHS staff will be asked if they have experienced sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour in the workplace for the first time.

In a letter, NHS England chief delivery officer Steve Russell said the upcoming annual staff survey would include the following question: “In the last 12 months, how many times have you been the target of unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature in the workplace? This may include offensive or inappropriate sexualised conversation (including jokes), touching or assault.”

The next staff survey is due to be published in October 2023, with results expected next spring.

Mr Russell said the anonymous answers to the new question would “help us understand the potential prevalence of sexual misconduct in your organisation and inform further action to protect and support staff across the NHS”. 

It comes as NHSE launches the health service’s first sexual safety charter to help protect staff from harassment and inappropriate behaviour.

The charter is an agreement comprising 10 pledges, including commitments to provide staff with clear reporting mechanisms, training, and support from managers.

NHSE has called on organisations across the health sector, including trusts, systems, and royal colleges, to sign up for the new framework and commit to implementing its principles by July 2024.

However, only the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Royal College of GPs have signed up so far, alongside NHSE and NHS Employers.

Every English trust and system will also be required to have a domestic abuse and sexual violence lead, while additional training is being rolled out for senior managers to improve their awareness of sexual harassment and assault.

NHSE did not say what the training will comprise but told HSJ it is being developed by an expert advisory group.

More than 35,000 incidents of sexual misconduct or sexual violence were recorded on NHS sites in England between 2017 and 2022, according to an investigation by the British Medical Journal and the Guardian earlier this year.

Meanwhile, a third of female, and a quarter of male, respondents to a British Medical Association survey of 2,500 doctors said they had experienced unwanted physical conduct in the workplace.

Binta Sultan, who chairs NHSE’s national clinical network of sexual assault and abuse services, said the charter was the “start of an important journey to wipe out unwanted, inappropriate, and harmful sexual behaviour in healthcare environments”.

Dr Sultan added: “Signing up to this charter shows how committed NHSE and other healthcare organisations are to supporting those under their responsibility, where leaders will be supported to take charge and act upon signs of abuse, signposting to the appropriate support networks.”

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: “Improving sexual safety in the workplace requires the collective efforts of all parts of the sector.

“NHS Employers is supporting the charter developed by NHSE as an important step forward in making a positive change for all of those working in the NHS.

“We will work with our members and trade union colleagues to support action to ensure reporting and addressing sexual harassment and misogyny.”