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Scandal of nurses told sexual harassment ‘is all just part of the job’

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This Morning: Deidre Sanders discusses sexual harassment

More than half of those polled had been subject to verbal abuse while 37 percent had experienced physical incidents, such as being inappropriately touched by a patient or colleague. Some felt they had no choice but to put up with harassment, with one nurse saying her complaint was greeted by: “Well, that’s just part of the job”. A nurse who took part in the survey said: “The public think nurses are fair game, with comments about uniforms.

“This makes it hard to address, as these are our patients and visitors.

“But trusts need to do more and we need to change the public’s perception from the Carry On film image of nursing.”

Another revealed: “The response I got from my manager and colleagues was, ‘Well, that’s just part of the job’.

“It isn’t. It’s offensive and abusive and makes you scared to go to work.”

More than 2,300 nursing staff were surveyed by public service union Unison and Nursing Times magazine.

One in 10 said incidents of sexual harassment occurred “often”, 21 percent “occasionally” and 31 percent said there were “a few isolated incidents”.

Incidents occurred regardless of gender with 62 percent of female and 51 percent of male nursing staff encountering harassment.

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NHS staff have suffered physical and mental abuse (Image: Getty)

The most common form was verbal, with 56 percent experiencing inappropriate jokes, comments about appearance, invitations on a date, or questions about their private life.

Some 37 percent had experienced physical incidents including unwelcome touching, hugging or kissing, or invasion of personal space, and 29 percent experienced something visual, such as sexual gestures or staring. Almost three in five of those who had been harassed said it was by a patient, a quarter by medical colleagues, a quarter by other nursing colleagues and almost one in five by family and friends of patients.

Hilary Garratt, deputy chief nursing officer for England, said: “It is completely unacceptable for any member of staff to be subjected to abuse or harassment. We would encourage all affected staff to speak up so that we can provide the support they need.”

Almost three quarters of victims had not reported the incident to bosses. Others who did said they did not believe the issue was taken seriously and a third said not enough was being done to protect them in the workplace.

Hannah Reed, of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work.

“Sexual harassment, or any form of bullying or harassment, is unacceptable.”

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Comment by Josie Irwin 

Sexual harassment is against the law. However, for too many nurses it’s an unwanted daily reality.

Nurses are expected to put up with abusive behaviour because it is seen as “just part of the job”. For some it happens so frequently that it has become “normal”.

After gathering the experiences of more than 2,000 nursing staff and student​s, it’s clear lewd comments about personal appearance or private lives​, along with groping and inappropriate touching​, are all too common​. Incidents of sexual harassment are not isolated. Nor are they confined to a particular group of ​nurses’ daily contacts.

Half said the harassment had been from patients and their families ​or friends.

There were also many stories of inappropriate behaviour from work colleagues, including ​much more senior ones.

Around a quarter of those who had been harassed reported it, either because of worries about being taken seriously or they thought their employer wasn’t doing enough to protect staff.

It’s clear ​NHS trusts are not doing enough to protect employees from sexual harassment or encourage them to report abuse. It can have a devastating impact, often leading to ill-health and work-related stress, affecting both ​nurses’ work performance and personal lives. It can leave victims powerless, ashamed, hopeless and scared.

Managers and senior staff must take the lead to make clear sexual harassment is not tolerable. They must be trained to offer the right support to those experiencing it.

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NHS trusts ‘are not doing enough to protect employees’ (Image: Getty)

Throughout the pandemic, nurses have shown how much they care for us – it’s time more care was shown to them.

The culture of “just putting up with it” must end.

• Josie Irwin is a Unison national women’s officer

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One nurse revealed she has been the target of repeated shocking verbal and physical abuse from male patients.

She told the survey: “I helped a patient on weighing scales, bent over to fix them and he slapped my backside. I was blindsided and stunned.”

The long-suffering nurse added: “One patient asked could I wear high-heel boots.

“On another occasion I was in a busy office sorting out home visits for flu. A patient asked me to wear inappropriate clothes and wear red lipstick.

“He rang seven times…he asked me to tell him that I loved him. He asked me to kiss him when I arrived.”

After her manager intervened, the nurse stopped visiting the patient.

But another man’s behaviour left her in an awkward position. She said: “One particular patient commented how my husband was lucky because of the size of my breasts.

“I had to tell him that if he continued I would refuse to see him. It made me feel embarrassed but also bad… as he is a regular patient with long-term conditions.

“I feel very uncomfortable when I have to see him, but he won’t book with anyone else.”



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