1 in 12 NHS Staff Experience Sexual Harassment at Work

Nicky Broyd

June 20, 2019

A survey by the public service union UNISON has found 8% (1 in 12) NHS staff members experience sexual harassment at work.

The results of the online survey carried out by the union's health team are released in a report called It’s Never OK . They're part of a wider poll of 8,487 health workers' workplace experiences which was conducted in May.

The report has been released to coincide with UNISON's annual conference in Liverpool.

Survey Results

The 695 staff reporting harassment included nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, care assistants, and other union members working in the health sector. Of these:

  • 22% reported being sexually assaulted

  • 81% of those sexually harassed were women

  • 61% of perpetrators were older than their targets

  • 37% of harassers were in more senior roles to their targets

  • 54% of sexual harassment acts were carried out by colleagues and 24% by other workers

  • 42% of cases were committed by patients

Of those harassed:

  • 55% isolated themselves or avoided colleagues or situations at work

  • 35% said incidents affected their mental health

  • 34% said incidents affected confidence

  • 40% wanted to leave their jobs due to harassment

When it came to reporting incidents:

  • 20% reported cases to human resources departments or managers

  • 28% kept quiet

Of those not reporting incidents:

  • 49% didn't think anything would be done

  • 37% feared their concerns would be dismissed for being over-sensitive

  • 24% were concerned the perpetrator would retaliate

Sexual harassment incidents reported included:

  • Three reports of rape

  • One involving threats to rape

  • Indecent exposure

  • 'Upskirting' video sent to another staff member

  • Nude images sent through the online dating app Grindr

  • Leering and suggestive gestures

  • Sexual assault including kissing, stroking, touching, or hugging

Holding Employers to Account

UNISON is campaigning for the reinstatement of section 40 of the Equality Act 2010.

This was repealed in 2013. Before that time employers were liable if they had been made aware of three harassment incidents but did not act.

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 which should be a harassment-free zone and employers who fail to act should be held to account."


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