Only one NHS Trust offers its staff training focused on how to intervene when they witness sexual harassment at work, according to new research published in JRSM Open.
Dr Sarah Steele of the University of Cambridge and Jesus College, Cambridge, and Dr Ava Robertson, received responses from 199 NHS Trusts to their Freedom of Information request. Of those, 35 Trusts offer their staff Active Bystander Training (ABT) but only one of these has a specific module on sexual harassment. While welcomed by the researchers, they note that even that one module is optional for staff and outsourced to a private provider. No staff have yet completed the module.
Of the 163 Trusts without any ABT programmes, only 23 (13%) have plans to implement such training.
ABT has been identified as an effective intervention for addressing sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in other settings, such as the military, higher education and government workplaces, say the authors.
In their paper, they write: “Since 2017, when the #MeToo movement gained momentum around the world, sexual harassment in medicine has been extensively discussed, and recognised as both pervasive and harmful.
“Most ABT programmes address undesirable behaviour and harassment in a general way only. This is deeply concerning considering the continued prevalence of sexual harassment in the healthcare sector and the staunch support of ABT by gender-based violence experts to reduce and prevent it.”
The research also found that only five Trusts produce their ABT training in-house, with 27 outsourcing to private providers, who do not allow wider sharing of training materials, including with the researchers.
The authors call upon NHS leaders and policymakers to recognise the issues around training, including but not limited to its outsourcing to private providers. They say: “Without access to training materials for external evaluation, there is no means to assess the training adequacy and to share knowledge across NHS bodies.
“Policymakers should heed caution before winding out further training and recall that private companies have commercial interests to protect.”
They conclude that further research is needed into whether wider NHS adoption of ABT is warranted.
Dr Sarah Steele, of Jesus College, Cambridge and Cambridge Public Health said: “The NHS is failing to take advantage of a very effective training tool to address workplace harassment, sexual harassment and other forms of unacceptable behaviour such as bullying and racism.
“We found low uptake of active bystander training among NHS Trusts in England, particularly outside of London, and very little of the training that was on offer focused on sexual harassment. This is deeply worrying, given the continued problem of sexual harassment in the healthcare sector.
“In the face of a lack of workplace training, I’d encourage individuals to look at courses, like the one we offer at Jesus College, to equip themselves with these essential skills.”