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NHS doctor who suffered sexual assault by fellow medic has sex life questioned

NHS doctor who suffered sexual assault by fellow medic has sex life questioned

An NHS doctor who suffered a sexual assault by a colleague says the investigation into the incident was plagued with “mistake after mistake” and that her sex life was called into question during the complaints procedure.

Elizabeth*, who worked as a surgeon at Royal Stoke University Hospital, was assaulted at work – with a colleague grabbing her and forcibly kissing her face and neck as he blocked her from leaving the room.

It has emerged that the senior doctor who targetted her was subsequently arrested for sexually assaulting a girl under the age of 16. He was allowed full access to the hospital and worked with colleagues on research for a month before being suspended.

Speaking to The Independent in her first media interview, Elizabeth said the hospital’s investigation into her sexual assault in June 2020 was “heavily misogynistic” and failed to take the incident seriously.

She believes her colleague would have raped her if she hadn’t managed to push him off her.

Despite complaining straightaway, it took 10 months for the hospital to find there was a case to answer but as the other doctor had left the trust there was nothing they could do. Elizabeth then took her case to an employment tribunal which found last month that she had been unlawfully discriminated against on the grounds of her sex.

Elizabeth said the assault occurred after a senior doctor asked for an urgent conversation about work at the end of her shift. Inside his office, it quickly emerged the conversation was “just a pretence for getting me into the room”.

She described how he pulled her in for a hug as she tried to leave, making her “feel very uncomfortable”.

“He then pushed me down into the chair and said I seemed really anxious and he started massaging my back,” she added. “I stood up again and I was like, right. I need to go now.”

He then refused to let her go, beginning to kiss her and saying ‘I want a kiss’ while she tried to move her face away from him, she recounted.

“He wouldn’t let go of me,” Elizabeth added. “His hands were around me. Eventually, I managed to push him off. I’ve got no idea where I found the strength from. I ran out of the office. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t got out of that room. I worry that he would have raped me.”

She said she was “brimming with tears” in the toilet after the incident and endured flashbacks about the ordeal in the following days. “I’d close my eyes and I’d feel his breath on my face,” she added.

Elizabeth, who left the hospital in August 2020, said she now lives a reclusive life and still suffers flashbacks and nightmares about the incident, as she explained she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

The employment tribunal’s findings found the hospital’s investigator, Dr Ingi Elsayed, repeatedly asked colleagues “intrusive” questions about Elizabeth’s relationship history as well as probing about rumours linked to her.

The tribunal’s judgment, seen by The Independent, states “a culture of gossip within the trust seems to have prevailed” before later noting “scrutiny of the personal relationships of the claimant who was the victim of an unwanted sexual assault was a serious further act of discrimination”.

The document later adds: “We have made findings of fact that the working environment ... in the clinical setting was not one which set clear boundaries and inappropriate behaviour was allowed to continue left unchecked.”

It also states: “The claimant’s account of the encounter has not been challenged by the respondent.”

Elizabeth said she reported the assault but her manager had “no clue” about how to handle the situation or understanding of the relevant policies, suggesting the pair take part in mediation.

She then reported the incident to a colleague in HR whom, it later transpired, took no notes during the call and failed to do anything to progress the case.

Elizabeth said: “I later received a phone call from one of my colleagues. He told me that he had been called by the case investigator Dr Elsayed and she had been asking questions about my personal relationships with other colleagues. This was an informal chat and HR wasn’t notified.”

She and her representative at the British Medical Association then requested Dr Elsayed be removed from the investigation due to her “completely inappropriate” approach but this was refused.

“At the end of July, I then got a phone call from another person in HR to tell me the recording of my interview had been accidentally attached to an email and sent to three other people in the trust,” she added.

The data breach demonstrated “how shambolic their approach to the entire thing was” and the “little care” they took, she said.

Discussing the ordeal in her witness statement, Elizabeth said she was “horrified to learn that random people” heard her “crying”, at her “most vulnerable” recounting the sexual assault. She still has “nightmares” about who could have heard it, she said.

“I felt so humiliated, knowing that such a private recording about me and my sexual assault had been spread around the hospital,” she added.

Elizabeth hit out at Dr Elsayed’s report, saying she “discarded evidence that I gave for no practical reason”, as well as taking statements her perpetrator made “as facts without investigating them at all”.

She went on: “It was a completely one-sided investigation. They didn’t ask any questions about the personal life, or the relationships of the man who assaulted me.”

Elizabeth noted she trained for almost 10 years to be a surgeon, working “incredibly hard” and caring “passionately” about the career which she has now lost.

“It is not enough to say women should raise concerns about assault and harassment,” she added. “The trusts need to take those reports seriously and they need to investigate fairly.”

Tracy Bullock, chief executive of University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, said they do not “tolerate poor behaviour of either a sexual, bullying or harassment nature and we offer our sincere apologies to the claimant”.

She added: “Immediate action was taken at the time to address the failings in our processes this case has highlighted.”

While a spokesperson for the General Medical Council said they would “fully review the employment tribunal judgment and if appropriate, we will seek further information”, adding: “We absolutely condemn sexual assault, misogyny, sexism, sexual harassment and discrimination of any form in the medical profession.”

A spokesperson from Staffordshire Police said: “We are investigating reports of a sexual assault in Stoke-on-Trent in June 2020. Our investigations are ongoing. However, we believe the suspect has left the country and are working with partners to locate him.”

*Elizabeth is a pseudonym to protect the identity of the victim