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Breaking the silence: College takes action to address sexual misconduct in healthcare

08 Mar 2024

College 10-point action plan published in same week NHS England’s national staff survey underlines NHS staff experience ‘unacceptable levels of unwanted sexual behaviour’.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow has set out a 10-point action plan aimed at tackling sexual misconduct in healthcare.

The plan includes a range of measures to support healthcare professionals, from providing education and training on recognising and taking appropriate action on sexual misconduct, to strengthening the College Code of Conduct and supporting the collection of data on inappropriate behaviours.

The news follows the publication of the Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery’s independent report, Breaking the Silence: Addressing Sexual Misconduct in Healthcare, which detailed the findings of a survey distributed to members of the surgical workforce in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Mike McKirdy, President of the Royal College, which has more than 16,000 members in the UK and internationally, said: “The findings of the Working Party’s report were bleak: two thirds of female respondents (63.3%) had been the target of sexual harassment from colleagues, along with almost a quarter of men (23.7 percent). Almost 30% of women reported being the target of sexual assault in the last five years.

“We are appalled by these statistics, and we want to ensure that every member of our extended College community feels safe and respected in their place of work.

“Our 10-point action plan sets out the measures we are taking to help tackle inappropriate behaviours wherever they may occur. This includes empowering our community with training, and our College Council Executive Team have already committed to taking part in bystander training and encouraging others to do so.

“The 10-point action plan is not an exhaustive list – we will continue to work with Fellows and Members to listen, and hear, what other actions we might take.”

The College plan has been published in the same week NHS England’s staff survey found worrying levels of unwanted sexual behaviour towards staff. For the first time, the survey asked NHS staff if they had experienced sexual harassment while at work.

The results show 8.67% of the 675,140 NHS workers suffered sexual harassment from patients, patients’ relatives, or other members of the public in 2023. It also found that nearly 4% of staff faced unwanted sexual behaviour from colleagues.

Professor Christine Goodall, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery and the College’s representative on the Working Party on Sexual Misconduct, said: “Sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviours affect every area of healthcare.

“We believe that medical royal colleges have an important role to play in building safer communities, and by showing leadership, healthcare professionals can help to drive the change that is needed in society more generally. It is incumbent on us all to speak out if we witness inappropriate behaviour and to properly support those who come forward to report it’

The Action Plan has been informed by the detailed recommendations in the Breaking the Silence report. The College will also support the creation of a National Implementation Panel to oversee progress by organisations on the recommendations of the report. The proposed panel will collect data, report successes and ambitions, and ensure work continues for the workforce of the future.

The College Action Plan:

1. We will strengthen our Code of Conduct to specifically include sexual behaviours. This will be shared with all Fellows and Members. We will also strengthen the professional standards section of our regulations.

2. We have signed up to, and will enact, the NHS England Sexual Safety Charter**. We recognise that sexual misconduct needs to be tackled by all, and we are committed to working together with other organisations towards this.

3. We will provide education and training to support the healthcare workforce in recognising and taking appropriate action on sexual misconduct. We are actively exploring how we can work with experts to look at what training opportunities are required, and how we can best support our Fellows and Members. Our College leaders – our Executive Board, College Council and Trainees’ Committees – will be invited to undertake active bystander training and encourage others to follow suit.

4. As a College, we will continue our own learning journey to help change culture in healthcare. We recognise the importance of ongoing learning; as a starting point, all College staff will undertake active bystander training.

5. We will urge health boards and trusts to ensure all those involved in receiving reports of sexual misconduct have the knowledge, training and expertise to deal with reports. We will also implement training for our own senior managers, to ensure they are equipped to deal with any reports from College staff.

6. As a multidisciplinary College, we will use our voice to call on all healthcare regulators to include sexual misconduct towards colleagues within their professional guidance. We note the work already done by the GMC.

7. We will include sexual misconduct as a standing item in our monthly EDI reports to Executive Board and College Council to help us monitor progress and look at further opportunities for change.

8. We will support the collection of data by including questions on inappropriate behaviour in our annual staff survey and exit interviews, and encourage other employers in healthcare to do the same.

9. We will ask our College community for their views on how we are addressing sexual misconduct in healthcare to help inform our progress. We will do this through our member survey and our Inclusion Advisory Group.

10. We will continue to champion representation of women in local and national leadership roles, and across all specialties, to encourage equality and diversity. We will do this through our publications, our events, and through the creation of a Women’s Network.

Categories: College, Workforce

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