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NHS should provide sexual harassment and violence prevention training to employees

Healthcare risks falling behind other sectors in providing training to help employees address sexual harassment and violence within the workplace. A group of doctors and academics writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are calling for NHS institutions to train people to intervene and challenge poor behaviour.

Lead author Dr Sarah Steele, of the University of Cambridge, said: “Five years after the #MeToo movement highlighted both sexual misconduct and harassment occurring within the healthcare profession, there remains little training for healthcare professionals on how to support and respond to incidents in the NHS. With surveys suggesting one in ten healthcare workers report experiencing harassment at work, including from colleagues, each year, it is critical to train people on what to do and how to intervene.”

Dr Christopher Adcock, another of the authors and a consultant at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, added: “Speaking as a male-identifying clinician, I have both experienced harassment and witnessed it, particularly in the early part of my career. I think that it is vital that the whole healthcare workforce gain the tools to speak up and be part of the solution to sexual harassment in medicine.”

“The #MeToo movement highlighted the pressing need to consider respectful relationships and for all of us to assume roles as active bystanders. One step that crosscuts all levels of healthcare is training people to intervene, empowering all to challenge any poor behaviour.”

In their paper, the authors describe how active bystander programmes can develop the skills and confidence of individuals to challenge beliefs and assumptions that lead to poor behaviour, using different tools, either in the moment or after the event. They go on to explain the five Ds approach to active bystander training – direct action, distract, delegate, delay, and document.

Co-author Eliza Bond, of the University of Oxford, said: “Whilst the higher education sector has been quick to adopt various forms of intervention training, healthcare has fallen behind. Good practice in the clinical setting requires that staff are equipped with the necessary skills to intervene.”

Co-author Dr Joy Clarke, a trainee doctor in the NHS, added: “Intervention and culture change programmes offer not only the chance to practise and refine bystander skills, but allow restatement of the institutional, professional and NHS ethos. It is time the NHS and Health Education England, alongside other healthcare and professional bodies in the UK and beyond, develop training and take proactive steps to empower the healthcare workforce and create a culture of respect, inclusivity and equality.”

Notes to editors

Medicine, misconduct and confronting #MeToo (DOI: 10.1177/01410768221080777) by Eliza Bond, Joy Clarke, Christopher Adcock and Sarah Steele will be published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine at 00:05 hrs (UK time) on Wednesday 2 March 2022.

The link for the full text of the paper when published will be:

For further information or a copy of the paper please contact:

Rosalind Dewar

Media Office, Royal Society of Medicine

DL: +44 (0) 1580 764713

M: +44 (0) 7785 182732


TheJournal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM) is a leading voice in the UK and internationally for medicine and healthcare. Published continuously since 1809, JRSM features scholarly comment and clinical research. JRSM is editorially independent from the Royal Society of Medicine, and its editor is Dr Kamran Abbasi.

JRSM is a journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and it is published by SAGE Publishing.

Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 1000 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. A growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne.

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