Surgery faces ‘MeToo moment’ as female staff assaulted while operating

Two-thirds of NHS surgeons claim to have been sexually harassed and a third alleged assaults

Female surgeon
Of more than 1,400 NHS staff quizzed, 63% of female surgeons reported being the target of sexual harassment
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Almost one in three women working in surgery have been sexually assaulted by a colleague at work, new research has found.

According to a study in the British Journal of Surgery, sexual misconduct in the profession is “rife” and appears to go unchecked. A “misogynistic culture” in hospitals poses a “significant risk to patient safety”, the authors warned.

Of more than 1,400 NHS staff quizzed, 63% of female surgeons reported being the target of sexual harassment ranging from “uninvited comments” about their body to being “threatened for refusing sexual favour”. And 30% reported assaults, including 11 instances of rape.

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Insiders claim such assaults have long been “surgery’s open secret”, said the BBC. The research has exposed the largely “untold story” of women being “fondled inside their scrubs”, of male surgeons “wiping their brow on their breasts”, and men “rubbing erections against female staff”.  

A former breast cancer surgeon, Dr Liz O'Riordan, told the broadcaster earlier this year that she had experienced sexual harassment from colleagues on a regular basis in some of her jobs as a junior doctor.

The new study, commissioned by the independent Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery, found that 24% of male staff had also been sexually harassed. But the authors concluded that men and women surgeons are “living different realities”.

Surgery is facing its “MeToo moment”, said Tamzin Cuming, chair of the Women in Surgery Forum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The research report is “measured” and “its recommendations achievable”, she wrote in an opinion piece for The Times, “but this shouldn’t disguise the anger and frustration felt by many in our profession”. 

“Action is needed” to bring about a “profound change in the culture of healthcare”, Cuming concluded.

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