NHS surgeon describes moment she was sexually assaulted

Female NHS surgeon describes harrowing moment she was sexually assaulted by ‘smirking’ colleague in operating theatre while patient was under anaesthetic – after report finds nearly one in three female staff have been attacked in last five years

  • Woman named ‘Judith’ says colleague wiped his sweaty brow on her breasts
  • Says she suggested getting him towel but he said: ‘No, this is much more fun’
  • Survey claims 1 in 3 female NHS surgeons sexually assaulted in last 5 years 

A surgeon has claimed she was sexually assaulted by a consultant who wiped his sweaty brow on her breasts while their patient was anaesthetised on the table.

The woman, named only as Judith, was ‘humiliated’ by her colleague who ‘smirked’ after she suggested getting him a towel and told her: ‘No, this is much more fun’.

The attack on the woman, who was a junior surgeon at the time but is now a consultant, was said to have taken place in an operating theatre full of other staff.

She spoke out as a new survey was released claiming almost one in three female surgeons working in the NHS have been sexually assaulted in the last five years.

Eleven instances of rape were reported by surgeons who took part in the study, published this morning in the British Journal of Surgery.

Almost one in three female surgeons working in the NHS have been sexually assaulted in the last five years, according to a new survey (file image)

Judith told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘I was assisting a consultant on a case. I guess he’d got a bit sweaty, but turned round and just buried his head into right into my breasts. And I realised he was wiping his brow on me.

‘And you just freeze, right? Why is his face in my cleavage, you know? ‘And then a little while later he turns round, he does exactly the same thing all other again.

‘So I said: ‘Excuse me, do you want me to get you a towel?’ And he said ‘no, this is much more fun’. And it was the smirk and just everything about it. I felt dirty, I felt humiliated.’

The survey found 29 per cent of women who responded had experienced unwanted physical advances at work, more than 40 per cent receiving uninvited comments about their body and 38 per cent receiving sexual banter at work.

Almost 90 per cent of women said they had witnessed sexual misconduct in the past five years with 81 per cent of men giving the same answer.

The percentage of respondents to the survey who witnessed, or were the target of, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape by gender over the past five years

The report concluded: ‘Sexual misconduct occurs frequently and appears to go unchecked in the surgical environment owing to a combination of a deeply hierarchical structure and a gender and power imbalance.

‘The result is an unsafe working environment and an unsafe space for patients.’

Compiled by the University of Exeter from 1,436 responses to an anonymous online survey, the survey was commissioned by The Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery.

This is a group of NHS surgeons, clinicians and researchers who say they are ‘working to raise awareness of sexual misconduct in surgery, to bring about cultural and organisational change’.

Consultant surgeon Tamzin Cuming, who chairs the Women in Surgery forum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the report presents ‘some of the most appalling facts ever to come out’ about the field and ‘represents a MeToo moment for surgery’.

Writing in The Times, she said: ‘Our research reveals an environment where sexual assault, harassment and rape can occur among staff working in surgery but allows it to be ignored because the system protects those carrying it out rather than those affected.

‘We need urgent change in the oversight of how healthcare investigates itself.’

She called for the creation of a national implementation panel to oversee action on the report’s recommendations and for incidents of sexual misconduct to be independently investigated.

She said: ‘No one should need to call for a code of conduct that says, in essence, ‘please do not molest your work colleagues or students’, and yet this is one of the actions our report recommends.

‘The report is measured, its recommendations achievable, but this shouldn’t disguise the anger and frustration felt by many in our profession.’

The results have been presented to NHS England, the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association.

Dr Binta Sultan, who chairs NHS England’s national clinical network of sexual assault and abuse services, said the report presented ‘clear evidence’ that action was needed to make hospitals a safer environment.

She told the BBC: ‘We are already taking significant steps to do this, including through commitments to provide more support and clear reporting mechanisms to those who have suffered harassment or inappropriate behaviour.’

Tim Mitchell, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said such behaviour had ‘no place… anywhere in the NHS’.

Describing it as ‘abhorrent’, he said: ‘We will not tolerate such behaviour in our ranks.’

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