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Report reveals culture of ‘systemic and institutional’ sexism, as RCEM says ‘this toxic culture has no place within our profession’ 

21 November 2023

RCEM has described a new report revealing a culture of systematic and institutional sexism as ‘shocking’ and ‘deeply saddening’ stating “this toxic culture has no place within our profession.” 

The report, Surviving Healthcare: Sexism and Sexual Violence in the Healthcare Workforce, published today (21 November) by Surviving in Scrubs ‘evidence a systematic and institutional sexism and tolerated sexual violence within healthcare and the healthcare workforce.’ While the stories describe a ‘significant power imbalance’ between senior male and junior female healthcare workers that left staff feeling unable to report incidents. 

The report also found: 

  • There were 174 incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and sexism submitted anonymously to the survey in 2022-23. 
  • Perpetrators of sexual violence were described as ‘well known’ and able to ‘act within a culture of tolerance’, while survivors faced ‘enduring impacts on their wellbeing and careers’. 
  • Perpetrators were described as using one on one clinical environments, clinical skills training and patientcare as settings for sexual assault. Half of incidents reported occurred in patient facing environments including hospital wards, theatre and clinics. 
  • Survivors also described ‘experiences of maternity and reproductive discrimination, reduced pay and lost training and career opportunities’. 

Dr Adrian Boyle, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said:  

“The testimonies in this report are shocking. To see and read of a pattern of unacceptable and abhorrent behaviours is deeply saddening. 

“We condemn these despicable behaviours and misconduct, from the most inappropriate comments and language to sexual assault. 

“This toxic culture has no place within our profession, the NHS, or anywhere else. 

“It is distressing and upsetting to read these testimonies, but it is absolutely right that Surviving in Scrubs has compiled this report and is highlighting the urgent need to tackle this toxic culture – for the survivors and for all staff who may work in fear of these incidents.   

“Anyone who is subjected to or witnesses any inappropriate behaviour should report it, and leadership must take the necessary and appropriate action against those responsible, regardless of their position.” 

The report comes following a similar study published in September 2023 in the British Journal of Surgery which found that one in three female surgeons working in the NHS have been sexually assaulted in the past five years.

The General Medial Council have provided clear and explicit guidance on professional standards for all doctors in the UK including a zero tolerance policy of sexual harassment. 

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