Is this surgery’s MeToo moment? Nearly one in three NHS female surgeons from trainees to senior staff reveal they’ve been sexually assaulted by colleagues in operating theatres as one woman describes harrowing attack in vivid detail
- Woman named ‘Judith’ says colleague wiped his sweaty brow on her breasts
- Says she suggested getting him towel but he said: ‘No, this is much more fun’
- Survey claims 1 in 3 female NHS surgeons sexually assaulted in last 5 years
Women NHS surgeons revealed today that they have suffered a torrent of sexual assaults by colleagues in the workplace – including one man who wiped his sweaty brow on their breasts and another who rubbed his erect penis up against them.
A series of victims have come forward to expose a toxic environment in operating theatres after a shocking survey was released claiming almost one in three female surgeons working in the NHS have been sexually assaulted in the last five years.
One woman claimed she was sexually assaulted by a consultant who pushed his head into her cleavage while their patient was anaesthetised on the operating table.
Another consultant plastic surgeon said a male colleague went to give her a hug before rubbing himself against her and saying: ‘You probably felt my erection then.’
A third claimed she was regularly sexually harassed at work and that one colleague once told her to always wear short trousers ‘because your ankles are really sexy’.
And a fourth said she had suffered ‘knuckle brushes on your breasts, touching your bum, comments about your sex life, lewd suggestions to make you blush’.
Roshana Mehdian-Staffell, a trainee trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, spoke of a ‘boys’ club mentality’ and said one colleague made a comment about her ‘sexy’ ankles in short trousers
Eleven instances of rape were reported by surgeons who took part in the study, published this morning in the British Journal of Surgery.
The survey found 29 per cent of women who responded had experienced unwanted physical advances at work, more than 40 per cent receiving uninvited comments about their body and 38 per cent receiving sexual banter at work.
Almost 90 per cent of women said they had witnessed sexual misconduct in the past five years with 81 per cent of men giving the same answer.
One surgeon claimed she was sexually assaulted by a consultant who wiped his sweaty brow on her breasts.
The woman, named only as Judith, was ‘humiliated’ by her colleague who ‘smirked’ after she suggested getting him a towel and told her: ‘No, this is much more fun’.
The attack on the woman, who was a junior surgeon at the time but is now a consultant, was said to have taken place in an operating theatre full of other staff.
Judith told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘I was assisting a consultant on a case. I guess he’d got a bit sweaty, but turned round and just buried his head into right into my breasts. And I realised he was wiping his brow on me.
‘And you just freeze, right? Why is his face in my cleavage, you know? ‘And then a little while later he turns round, he does exactly the same thing all other again.
‘So I said: ‘Excuse me, do you want me to get you a towel?’ And he said ‘no, this is much more fun’. And it was the smirk and just everything about it. I felt dirty, I felt humiliated.’
Philippa Jackson, a consultant plastic surgeon from Bristol, told The Times that she was discussing a patient with a male colleague when he tried to give her a hug.
Liz O’Riordan, who was a consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon before retiring four years ago, said she regularly experienced sexual harassment during her career of more than 20 years
She said: ‘He made some noises and rubbed himself against me. And then, as he backed away, he said ‘You probably felt my erection then,’ and he also told me he could see down my top.’
Ms Jackson said she did not want to make a fuss because ‘we were about to go into theatre and I don’t think I had properly registered what had happened’.
Later that evening, she was working with the same colleague who offered to tie up her gown, which is a normal procedure among surgeons.
But she claimed he said ‘Now you’ve given me permission to tie you up under any circumstances’ – before kissing her on her neck from behind.
She also claimed to have ‘no faith in the system’ to protect her from attackers like the colleague who assaulted her.
Liz O’Riordan, who was a consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon before retiring four years ago, said she regularly experienced sexual harassment during her career of more than 20 years.
She told The Times: ‘It was usually in theatre, when you’re operating next to your boss, your superiors, and your peers. You’re wearing thin cotton scrubs and you have full body contact.
‘It was knuckle brushes on your breasts, touching your bum, comments about your sex life, lewd suggestions to make you blush. And when it happens, no one else in the theatre responds.’
Ms O’Riordan, who has previously written about her experiences in The Mail On Sunday, added that she also had a ‘fear of speaking out when your job depends on the training and references from the person harassing you’.
Roshana Mehdian-Staffell, a trainee trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, has spoken of a ‘boys’ club mentality’.
While she was training, a surgeon took her to a satellite clinic in his car and put his hand on her thigh.
In the sluice room – where waste is disposed of – she said: ‘I’ve had people stand behind me and grind themselves into me.’
Philippa Jackson said she was discussing a patient with a male colleague when he tried to give her a hug, rubbed himself against her and said: ‘You probably felt my erection then’
One said: ‘You’ve got short trousers on – make sure you always wear them because your ankles are really sexy.’
The report in the British Journal of Surgery concluded: ‘Sexual misconduct occurs frequently and appears to go unchecked in the surgical environment owing to a combination of a deeply hierarchical structure and a gender and power imbalance.
‘The result is an unsafe working environment and an unsafe space for patients.’
Compiled by the University of Exeter from 1,436 responses to an anonymous online survey, the survey was commissioned by The Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery.
This is a group of NHS surgeons, clinicians and researchers who say they are ‘working to raise awareness of sexual misconduct in surgery, to bring about cultural and organisational change’.
Consultant surgeon Tamzin Cuming, who chairs the Women in Surgery forum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the report presents ‘some of the most appalling facts ever to come out’ about the field and ‘represents a MeToo moment for surgery’.
Almost one in three female surgeons working in the NHS have been sexually assaulted in the last five years, according to a new survey (file image)
Writing in The Times, she said: ‘Our research reveals an environment where sexual assault, harassment and rape can occur among staff working in surgery but allows it to be ignored because the system protects those carrying it out rather than those affected.
‘We need urgent change in the oversight of how healthcare investigates itself.’
She called for the creation of a national implementation panel to oversee action on the report’s recommendations and for incidents of sexual misconduct to be independently investigated.
She said: ‘No one should need to call for a code of conduct that says, in essence, ‘please do not molest your work colleagues or students’, and yet this is one of the actions our report recommends.
‘The report is measured, its recommendations achievable, but this shouldn’t disguise the anger and frustration felt by many in our profession.’
The results have been presented to NHS England, the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association.
Dr Binta Sultan, who chairs NHS England’s national clinical network of sexual assault and abuse services, said the report presented ‘clear evidence’ that action was needed to make hospitals a safer environment.
The percentage of respondents to the survey who witnessed, or were the target of, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape by gender over the past five years
She told the BBC: ‘We are already taking significant steps to do this, including through commitments to provide more support and clear reporting mechanisms to those who have suffered harassment or inappropriate behaviour.’
Tim Mitchell, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said such behaviour had ‘no place… anywhere in the NHS’.
Describing it as ‘abhorrent’, he said: ‘We will not tolerate such behaviour in our ranks.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘The Health and Social Care Secretary is clear that sexual violence or misconduct of any kind is unacceptable and has no place in the NHS.
‘He is working closely with NHS leaders to root out this unacceptable behaviour and ensure services are always safe for staff and patients.
‘In partnership with the Royal Colleges, staff, regulators and trade unions, the NHS recently launched the healthcare system’s first organisational sexual safety charter.
‘Signatories commit to taking and enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to any unwanted, inappropriate and/or harmful sexual behaviours within the workplace.’
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