Health staff suffering serious sexual harassment

Nurses, care assistants, cleaners and other NHS staff have suffered lewd sexual insults, groping and even rape while at work, according to new UNISON research.

According to the report It’s Never Ok, released on the penultimate day of UNISON’s annual conference in Liverpool, verbal abuse was the most common complaint, with 64 per cent fo respondents highlighting it as an experience, while being leered at or subjected to offensive ‘banter’ and suggestive gestures are regular occurrences for some of the nearly one in ten healthcare staff who reported being sexually harassed in the past year.

Additionally, 22 per cent of the healthcare staff reporting harassment said they had been sexually assaulted. Some had also been the victim of criminal offences such as rape, up-skirting, indecent exposure or inappropriate touching. Acts of sexual harassment were most often committed by colleagues (54 per cent). A quarter were committed by other workers (24 per cent) and two fifths (42 per cent) by patients.

UNISON says that the survey results highlight the need for a tougher approach from government against employers who fail to tackle sexual harassment, campaigning for a change in the law so employers are also responsible for protecting their staff against harassment from for example patients or those working for contractors.

Christina McAnea, UNISON assistant general secretary, 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 which should be a harassment-free zone and employers who fail to act should be held to account.”

It’s Never Ok highlights the psychological trauma suffered by the 700 staff who responded to say they’d suffered sexual harassment in the past year. The findings are taken from a much larger survey of 8,000 health workers and their experiences at work.

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