Female doctors launch campaign against harassment in UK healthcare | Doctors

Female doctors launch campaign against harassment in UK healthcare | Doctors

Female doctors have launched an online campaign that they say exposes shocking gender-based discrimination, harassment and sexual assault in healthcare.

Surviving in Scrubs is an issue for all healthcare workers, say the campaign’s founders, Becky Cox and Chelcie Jewitt, who are encouraging women to share stories of harassment and abuse to “push for change and to reach the people in power”.

The campaign has called for the General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates doctors, to explicitly denounce sexist and misogynistic behaviour towards female colleagues and “treat them with respect”.

“Unfortunately, so much of the behaviours are normalised. A lot of people working within healthcare don’t realise that they are a problem,” said Jewitt.

When asked if she had experienced harassment and abuse at work, she said: “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t, to be honest with you.”

Now, she uses the experiences to fuel the campaign, but it previously made her question her career choice in emergency medicine.

“There is no ‘I’ in team, but equally, one person not feeling great does have an impact on a team and healthcare is all about teamwork,” Jewitt said.

More than 40 stories have been shared on the campaign’s website, ranging from sexual harassment by patients to inappropriate remarks and sexual advances from supervisors.

One story said a female doctor recently became aware of a competition between male doctors in a hospital’s stroke ward “to see who would be the first to sleep with a whole MDT [multidisciplinary team]”. In another, a doctor recounted that when she informed her supervisor of her pregnancy she was told he thought as much, as her “breasts were much bigger than they had used to be”.

Other stories include doctors facing sexual harassment from patients. “I did not feel safe at work,” said one doctor, who when seeking advice from a male colleague whose role it was to advise of such issues was told: “There is nothing I can do other than to eat 10 doughnuts every night.”

The campaign is bolstered by evidence that shows 91% of female respondents had experienced sexism at work within the past two years. The findings are a result of nearly 2,500 surveyed doctors working in the NHS – the majority of whom were women – published in a 2021 report by the British Medical Association (BMA).

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The report found 84% of all respondents said there was sexism in the medical profession, and 61% of women felt they were discouraged to work in a particular specialty because of their gender.

The report was a result of a two-year effort started by Jewitt, then a junior doctor in emergency services, in collaboration with the BMA. Male and female respondents said they felt the main driver of sexism in the medical professional was a result of individual views and behaviours, followed by structural and institutional factors.

Following the report, Latifa Patel, the acting chair of the BMA’s representative body, and a doctor, said: “There is no place for sexism in society. If we want to eradicate it, we all have a part to play. It’s going to take a concerted effort, and it won’t be quick to fix, but sexism must stop.”

While the BMA report stopped short in detailing cumulative ways other forms of discrimination such as racism and classism overlap, the campaign wrote on Twitter: “Sexism in the healthcare workforce is intersectional. Race, disability, sexuality, ethnicity, class, gender all interlink to create a multitude of experiences. Sexism doesn’t exist in a vacuum.”

Colin Melville, the GMC’s medical director and director for education and standards, called the accounts of assault “harrowing and appalling”, adding: “There can be no place for misogyny, sexism or any form of sexual harassment in the medical profession.”

The current consultation on GMC’s guidance for doctors set out a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, said Melville. It sets out for the first time that any form of abuse or discrimination is unacceptable, and includes a requirement for doctors to act and support others if they witness or learn of harassment.