NHS boss calls for sexual harassment to be ‘stamped out’ – as health service faces Me Too moment


The boss of the NHS has made a dramatic intervention in The Independent highlighting the shocking amount of sexual abuse against staff in the health service, arguing that a #MeToo moment is needed to safeguard staff.

Amanda Pritchard hit out at the “unacceptable” levels of abuse faced by doctors and nurses, demanding that health trusts be judged on their progress in tackling sexual harassment.

She has called for sexual harassment against NHS staff to be “stamped out” after it emerged that one in eight workers – 58,000 – had reported experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour last year.

Writing exclusively for The Independent, Ms Pritchard said the abuse now levelled at doctors and nurses is unacceptable – with some staff being raped at work, groped, and shown pornography.

Have you been affected by this issue? Email rebecca.thomas@independent.co.uk

Her bombshell warning follows a series of exposés by The Independent, which she credits for helping to highlight this issue, including uncovering widespread sexual harassment of trainee paramedics and the shocking number of sexual assaults on patients and staff within NHS-run mental health services.

“The #MeToo movement has powerfully called out this unacceptable behaviour and fuelled important discussions right across society, and the NHS must not be exempt,” Ms Pritchard wrote.

Around 58,000 NHS workers reported being subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour last year (PA)
Around 58,000 NHS workers reported being subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour last year (PA)

“But we can’t just call out unacceptable behaviour and move on: we need to stamp it out across all parts of the NHS.”

Praising this publication’s coverage of the issue, she added: “It can be incredibly difficult to speak up, and so I applaud those who have come forward to report unacceptable behaviour – and the powerful reporting in The Independent that has helped further to highlight this issue.”

Ms Pritchard’s strong comments were made in light of a recent survey that found that tens of thousands of staff had reported “unacceptable” levels of sexual harassment and assault while at work.

The figures, published as part of the NHS staff survey, showed that one in eight workers – around 58,000 – had reported experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour last year, while one in 26 reported experiencing similar harassment from a work colleague – statistics Ms Pritchard described as “truly sobering”.

She also highlighted a report published in September, which found that 29 per cent of women working in surgery had experienced “unwanted physical advances” from a colleague amid complaints of an “old-fashioned culture”.

Urging health leaders to “take ownership” of the issue and intervene, she said: “Such levels of abuse are difficult to comprehend when NHS staff come to work every day primarily to care for others. No one should experience sexism, sexual abuse, or assault in the NHS.”

In one of the worst examples of the abuse faced by staff, a mental health nurse said she was raped by a patient. Last year The Independent revealed the story of a paramedic who said she had been groped by one colleague and dry-humped by another before being locked in an ambulance and sexually assaulted.

Other horrific cases include that of a doctor who reported a sexual assault by a colleague. When the allegations were investigated, her employer asked the alleged victim questions about her sex life. It took 10 months for the hospital to investigate the incident, she told The Independent.

In stories shared by campaign group Surviving in Scrubs, a trainee GP who reported being raped by a colleague during a night out claims she was excused from the teaching programme rather than her alleged attacker being asked to leave.

Amanda Pritchard was appointed NHS chief executive in 2021 (PA Wire)
Amanda Pritchard was appointed NHS chief executive in 2021 (PA Wire)

And earlier this year, The Independent spoke to senior NHS nurse Michelle Russell, who revealed her eight-year hell at the hands of her NHS employer after she made allegations of sexual harassment against a male colleague.

NHS England has now sent out a letter to all health chiefs, warning that trusts and other organisations within the service will be measured and benchmarked in respect of their progress in tackling sexual harassment.

Ms Pritchard, who was appointed chief executive in 2021, has also said NHS England will work with trusts to ensure that concerns can be raised anonymously without fear of repercussions.

She wrote: “We must have a robust support system in place, where staff feel empowered to speak up and report incidents every time, and while this is a hugely complex piece of work, we are making this a priority.

“We won’t solve this issue overnight, but these actions are the beginning of an important journey to end unwanted, inappropriate and harmful sexual behaviour in the NHS, and I am personally committed to helping to make that happen.”

Last year, NHS England published a “sexual safety” charter, which sets out guidelines for organisations within the health service. This includes having 300 domestic abuse and sexual violence leads working across all services.

Ms Pritchard said the work being done to tackle the issue matters to her and should matter to all those who work in the service.

She wrote: “The NHS is nothing without our staff, and so it is right that we use their experiences, which are formally recorded as part of the staff survey, as a measure of progress.

“The work we are doing in this space matters to me and should matter to everyone working in the NHS.”