NHS chief calls out ‘unacceptable’ abuse faced by doctors and nurses

The chief executive of NHS England Amanda Pritchard has called out the “unacceptable” abuse that doctors and nurses face at work and said the NHS must not be exempt from its own #MeToo movement.

According to a major survey, there were 80,000 reports of NHS staff in England being sexually harassed by patients, their relatives, members of the public or colleagues while at work last year.

The NHS Staff Survey found more than 58,000 of the 675,140 staff that responded said they had experienced sexual harassment from patients, their relatives or other members of the public in 2023.

Almost 26,000 staff also reported unwanted sexual behaviour from colleagues.

Writing in the Independent, Ms Pritchard said the NHS needs to “stamp out” this behaviour across all parts of the NHS.

“The #MeToo movement has powerfully called out this unacceptable behaviour and fuelled important discussions right across society, and the NHS must not be exempt,” Ms Pritchard wrote.

“But we can’t just call out unacceptable behaviour and move on: we need to stamp it out across all parts of the NHS.

“Such levels of abuse are difficult to comprehend when NHS staff come to work every day primarily to care for others. No one should experience sexism, sexual abuse, or assault in the NHS.”

Ms Pritchard applauded those who came forward to report the abuse and acknowledged it can be “incredibly difficult to speak up”.

Hospital stock
NHS England launched its sexual safety charter last September (Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

“The work we are doing in this space matters to me and should matter to everyone working in the NHS,” she said.

In September, NHS England launched its sexual safety charter which commits to enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to any unwanted sexual behaviours in the workplace.

Ms Pritchard said there are more than 300 domestic abuse and sexual violence leads in place across the NHS as part of the charter.

“We must have a robust support system in place, where staff feel empowered to speak up and report incidents every time, and while this is a hugely complex piece of work, we are making this a priority,” she said.

“We won’t solve this issue overnight, but these actions are the beginning of an important journey to end unwanted, inappropriate and harmful sexual behaviour in the NHS, and I am personally committed to helping to make that happen.”

According to the survey, reports of sexual harassment were more prevalent among ambulance staff, nursing staff and healthcare assistants.