Updated Sun 17 Sept @16:24
Since we asked people to contact us about physical violence by managers and staff within East Kent Hospital University Foundation Trust, we’ve had more than seventy individuals come forward to inform us of their experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault working in the Trust; which serves a population of 700,000, across East Kent.
Trust staff have informed us they have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by their colleagues while at work within the Trust’s hospitals and that it is an “everyday experience”. Their experiences show that women in the Trust’s workforce are living different realities. For these individuals being around colleagues is more often going to mean witnessing, and being a target of, sexual misconduct.
Sexual harassment, sexual assault, referred to as sexual misconduct, are unacceptable at our Trust. These are illegal and criminal acts. According to their experiences sexual misconduct occurs frequently and appears to go unchecked in their working environment owing to a combination of a gender and power imbalance. Alas, sexual misconduct in the NHS is not new.
There are reasons for the lack of information/data, including under-reporting of sexual misconduct, for fear of potential repercussions, and damage to career progression. The NHS does not like whistleblower, or those who choose to rock the boat, our Trust is no different.
Most individuals who have contacted us have witnessed sexual harassment, and have been a target of sexual harassment.
Theresa [not her real name] experienced two doctors openly discussing her breasts and what they’d like to do to them, while in a lift with them.
Sarah [not her real name] experienced her genitals being touched by a colleague’s foot under the table while in the Doctor’s mess.
Colin [not his real name] has had his derriere fondled numerous times
None of them reported these incidences as they knew there would be severe repercussions
More than a third of the individuals have been the target of sexual assault and all these incidents took place within East Kent Hospital University Foundation Trust.
Tina [not her real name] has had male colleagues bury their heads in her breasts on multiple occassions.
Sandra [not her real name] has had her derriere massaged many times
Kevin [not his real name] has had his genitals groped more than five times
None of this is acceptable.
A major concern arising from these allegations is the level of sexual coercion reported by these individuals, with many of them experiencing forced physical contact linked to their career opportunities. There is more than enough evidence available which identifies silence and silencing to be central to cultures that facilitate sexual violence.
The seventy plus individuals believe the unwanted behaviour perpetrated upon them has become normalized within our local Hospital Trust. This normalization of unacceptable behaviour such as sexual misconduct leads current or would-be perpetrators to perceive tacit support for their sexualized behavior, this should not be the case at our Trust.
Without exception all these seventy plus individuals who have experienced exposure to sexual misconduct say their mental health and wellbeing has been affected significantly. Their experiences of these illegal and criminal acts has also had harmful consequences resulting in, depression, self-harm, and thoughts of suicide. All of these individuals who’ve contacted us have said they no longer have job satisfaction and are looking for another job outside of our Trust and the NHS. These are serious events that potentially deter and derail these individuals from realizing their career goals.
More than half of those who have responded to our call out say they would not report this to the Freedom to speak up champions within our Trust. More than a third claim they have raised the issue and have have seen their concerns go no further, they claim. Excellence in healthcare depends on teams, critically those in which all members feel safe and have a voice, but it would appear those who have approached us have no voice, as they fear speaking up or if they do it goes no further.
It is known NHS trusts recorded more than 35 000 cases of rape, sexual assault, harassment, stalking, and abusive remarks between 2017 and 2022, but only one in 10 trusts has a dedicated policy to manage the problem. Despite staff being the group predominantly affected (in 62% of incidents), trusts are no longer obliged to report abuse of staff to a central database.
The Trust do not have sexual safety policies: they being dedicated policies that set out how to safeguard staff, patients, and visitors from harm and what processes to follow when cases are reported.
“This is absolutely shocking and I think shows a terrifying naivety on the part of those trusts, the huge majority, without a specific policy,” says Elizabeth Duncan, a partner at Slee Blackwell Solicitors. “How they can possibly hope to keep patients and staff safe in the absence of policy and guidance is beyond me.”
Our Trust has a standard disciplinary-procedure policy which was last updated in 2017. It mentions sexual misconduct just once. The Trust need a specific sexual safety policy as trusts that do have dedicated policies reported more cases than those that didn’t. Trusts that do not report any sexual safety incidents tended not to have policies. EKHUFT has no specific sexual safety policy.
These claims by 70 plus members of staff require action by East Kent Hospital University Foundation Trust urgently, and furthermore it must produce a specific policy. This is a deeply serious issue that affects both clinical and non-clinical staff in out Trust and needs to be addressed. Cultural change regarding sexual misconduct in our Trust is long overdue.
We sincerely hope the Trust will open a Trust wide investigation into sexual harassment and sexual assault, but given the Trust’s history of cover-up, we are not holding our breath.
The Shepway Vox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime