One in five GPs have been sexually harassed, survey finds

More than one in five GPs in the UK have been sexually harassed by a patient in the last three years, a survey suggests - and more than one in 20 have experienced or witnessed harassment by a colleague.

GP consultation (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)
GP consultation (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)

A total of 22% of 178 family doctors who responded to the poll said they had experienced sexual harassment by a patient at work. This was five percentage points higher than the figure across all 1,378 UK physicians (17%) who took part.

Meanwhile, 4% of GPs who took part in the survey by medical information website Medscape said they had experienced sexual harassment by a colleague - compared with 3% across all doctors.

A total of 3% of GPs reported having witnessed sexual harassment by a colleague and 6% had either witnessed or experienced sexual harassment by a colleague - but few had reported their experiences formally.

Sexism

The findings come just months after GPonline reported on senior doctors speaking out about a 'sexist culture' within the BMA. The BMA launched an urgent investigation earlier this year after this website reported on female GPs' experiences of harassment, being belittled or ignored by male colleagues.

General surgery professionals were the medical specialty most likely to report having experienced sexual harassment by patients (25%), the Medscape survey found. Doctors working in paediatrics and anaesthetics were the least likely to report sexual harassment by a patient (6%).

Across all respondents who reported being sexually harassed by a patient, 53% said this had involved a patient 'acting in an overtly sexual manner'. Requests for dates and attempts to touch clinicians were the second most common forms of harassment reported.

In cases of sexual harassment by a colleague, respondents said the most common types of harassment included deliberately infringing on personal space/standing too close (58%), sexual comments about body parts, leering or sexually looking at body parts (49%) and unwanted groping, hugging, patting, or other physical contact (36%).

Harassment

More than half (56%) of doctors experiencing harassment had been harassed by a colleague in a superior position - and 43% of those surveyed believed senior staff were likely to be granted greater leeway over inappropriate conduct.

GP and co-author of the report Dr Rob Hicks said: ‘The healthcare clinical setting is often a high pressure environment, with doctors increasingly reporting a great deal of stress.

‘Doctors have a right to a safe workplace yet this report shows that many are still experiencing or witnessing unacceptable behaviour by colleagues and by patients.'

Four out of five doctors who took part in the survey said being sexually harassed at work negatively impacted on patient care, but 56% of those who had experienced sexual harassment did not report it.

Dr Hicks called for more work to tackle sexual harassment, pointing to a finding that just 16% of workplaces conducted mandatory harassment training.

He added: 'It takes courage to report sexual harassment but in order to eliminate this scourge for good it’s vital that those affected report any incidents, and that senior management support their staff and investigate to the fullest extent.'

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said earlier this year that sexist, disrespectful, discriminatory and abusive behaviour 'must be stamped out'.

* Click here to read the survey findings in full

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