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NHS staff reveal extent of sexual harassment they face at work

Nurses and colleagues put up with harassment, believing bosses won’t take action – Unison

Nurses and colleagues put up with harassment, believing bosses won’t take action – Unison


Picture: iStock

Nurses and other NHS staff face serious sexual harassment at work, according to a report.

Research by Unison revealed that being leered at or subjected to offensive 'banter' are regular problems for many staff.

Unwanted remarks and jokes were the most common complaints among 8,000 NHS nurses and other staff surveyed by the union. Three respondents said they had been raped.

Survey findings

Eight per cent (695) had faced sexual harassment in the past two years. Of these:

  • 54% said someone in their own team had been the perpetrator, 42% said a patient had been responsible and 24% said it had come from other staff.
  • Inappropriate remarks, ‘banter’ or ‘jokes’ were the most common form of harassment (64%).
  • Only one in five staff had complained to a manager, often because they didn't believe anything would be done about it.

'Many nurses, cleaners and administrative workers feel they have to put up with appalling behaviour as nothing will be done’

Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary, Unison

Some people had been driven to leave their job or had contemplated suicide, which was adding to the staffing crisis in the health service, said the union.


Christina McAnea of Unison.
Picture: Barney Newman

A harassment-free zone

Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: 'Staff should never have to face any kind of abuse, let alone sexually motivated insults and attacks.

'Many nurses, cleaners and administrative workers feel they have to put up with appalling behaviour as nothing will be done. This is generally because the perpetrators are in a position of power – or believe they are untouchable.

'The workplace should be a harassment-free zone and employers who fail to act should be held to account.' 


Ruth May, chief nurse for England. 
Picture: Barney Newman

RCN members voted at their May congress to ask the college to lobby employers to protect healthcare professionals from such behaviour.

‘NHS will not stand for this’

Chief nursing officer for England Ruth May said such incidents were taken seriously by NHS leaders when reported, and that staff needed 'appropriate care and support'.

She said: 'We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to abuse, violence or harassment in the workplace and we will not stand for harassment or assault of any kind against NHS staff.'


Further information

It's Never OK report


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