Of the 98 trusts that responded to our FOI requests, 39 provided a year-by-year breakdown of their data. Twenty-nine recorded an increase in reports since 2017, while five reported a decrease. The number of reports made annually in the remaining five trusts has remained constant over the past five years.
Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which has seen a 65 per cent increase in reports of sexual harassment, rising from 81 in 2017/18 to 131 in 2021/22, said it had a “high level of reporting”, which ” indicates a healthy safety culture.”
A spokesperson added: “Reported figures are patient-to-patient; inappropriate sexual conduct between family and patient and between patient and staff, and many include repeated incidents involving one or two people.
“These can range from types of inappropriate comments, to kissing, touching or indecent exposure.”
While it is acknowledged that progress is being made to encourage survivors of abuse and sexual misconduct to report their experiences, senior health leaders concede that more needs to be done to purge the NHS of such behaviour.
The British Medical Association and the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) have publicly acknowledged their shortcomings in tackling sexual misconduct and misogyny within their organisations.
In a statement issued earlier this year, the RCS president said: “We have been aware that there needs to be a cultural change in surgery for some time…”.
Meanwhile, a senior NHS official told the Telegraph that “there is more to be done to help people make complaints and stop the abuse in the first place.”
The source added: “The NHS staff survey suggests that sexual misconduct has persisted at a steady rate over the past five years. Based on the feedback we receive, more concerns arise in male-dominated work environments.
“There seem to be some particular problems in parts of the workforce, like surgery and ambulance services, but overall it’s something employers take seriously.”
Questions About Misconduct Procedures
While the national survey of NHS staff does not specify sexual misconduct, it does ask whether workers have experienced harassment, intimidation or abuse at work by a colleague, patient or manager. In 2021, 17.83% of the workforce answered “yes”, up slightly from 17.73% in 2017.
“Inappropriate behavior undermines trust in the health system and the ability to provide safe care,” said Ms. Hughes.
“Physicians, managers, and healthcare leaders have both a professional and moral responsibility to patients to ensure that there is a safe culture in healthcare settings and that misconduct is not tolerated.”
The data collected by the Telegraph also raises questions about how trusts handle allegations of sexual misconduct.
Information on investigative and disciplinary actions was provided for only 1,973 of the 16,082 reports of sexual misconduct.
Many trusts did not provide the requested data because they said it would violate the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Others said they could not provide the information because it was not recorded in the trust’s incident reporting system, while some said the data was not easily accessible and obtaining it would require reviewing each recorded incident.
The figures also show that, since 2017, the NHS has spent £4.47 million on legal costs specific to sexual abuse claims brought by healthcare workers or patients.
Expenses increased from £806,408 in 2017/18 to £1.1m in 2019/20, but then fell to £673,777 in the following financial year.
Em Wilkinson-Brice, National People Director, NHS England, said: “The NHS must be a safe space for all staff and patients: we do not tolerate any form of sexual misconduct, violence, harassment or abuse in any work environment and we are clear that all NHS trusts and organizations must have robust measures in place to ensure that immediate action is taken in any case brought to their attention.
“I strongly encourage anyone who has experienced any misconduct on the NHS to come forward, report it and seek support.”
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