Report catalogues sexism and sexual assault in the NHS

A new report by Surviving in Scrubs catalogues 150 cases of sexism, sexual harassment and assault within the NHS, mostly by senior doctors.

Doctors standing with their arms crossed - BMA survey


There is systematic and institutional sexism and sexual violence against female healthcare staff in the UK, including maternity and reproductive discrimination, reduced pay and lost training and career opportunities, according to a report by Surviving in Scrubs, a campaign against sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault within the UK healthcare workforce.

The report is the first analysis of 150 stories of sexism, sexual harassment and assault submitted anonymously to the Surviving in Scrubs website. The stories describe the significant power imbalance between powerful senior male staff perpetrating sexual violence to junior female staff members in healthcare, in what is described as ‘a normalised culture of sexism, entitlement, and the devaluing of women staff’.

Perpetrators of sexual violence are described as being well known, acting within a culture of tolerance, while survivors struggle to raise concerns and face enduring impacts on their wellbeing and careers.

It catalogues perpetrators using one on one clinical environments, clinical skills training and patient care as settings for sexual assault. Moreover, it says women healthcare workers reported their clinical judgements being questioned, decisions not taken seriously and their clinical requests being ignored as well as their referrals being refused leading to a potential risk to patient care.

62.3% of those reporting abuse were doctors and 8.38% were nurses. 11.9% were healthcare students including nursing, paramedic and medical students. Of the doctors who documented their grade 88.8% identified themselves as junior doctors. 76.1% of perpetrators were doctors, most of them consultants, 7.4% were nurses, and 5.5% were managers. 42.3% of incidents included sexual harassment and 36.8% included sexism. 20.6% of incidents involved sexual assault, 1.9% rape. 50% of incidents occurred in patient-facing environments including hospital wards, theatre, and clinics.

The report recommends education on sexism and sexual misconduct for all staff in healthcare including students, with a focus on responding to reports of sexual violence for managers, culture change, allyship and preventing sexual misconduct. It would also like to see research into the impact of sexism and sexual violence on the workforce via an intersectional lens and development of evidence-based interventions to address the culture of sexism and prevent sexual violence as well as an independent inquiry into the culture of sexism and sexual misconduct in healthcare.

Other recommendations include improved support for survivors, a review of current policy and past cases by healthcare employers to improve internal processes, the introduction of specialist sexism and sexual misconduct policies, an independent anonymous reporting system available across the NHS, reform from healthcare regulators to reduce the number of cases dropped before investigation and a system to improve communication between healthcare employers, regulators, and the police. The report says mandatory reporting from the employer to the healthcare regulator should be introduced for cases of sexual harassment and assault.

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