NHS launches first-ever sexual safety charter to help protect staff

Source: NHS England 5.9.23

More support will be provided to NHS staff who have suffered harassment or inappropriate behaviour, thanks to a first of its kind sexual safety charter.

The charter is an agreement with 10 pledges including commitments to provide staff with clear reporting mechanisms, training, and support.

NHS chiefs are today calling on organisations across the health sector including royal colleges to sign up to the framework to eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace.

As part of the major new action, every NHS trust and local health system in England will also have a domestic abuse and sexual violence lead to support patients and staff to report incidents and access support.

NHS England is creating gold-standard policies and support for local hospitals and health systems to use to address incidents of sexual misconduct.

By signing up to the charter, NHS managers will receive extra training to improve awareness and ensure allegations are appropriately investigated.

The NHS staff survey covering all hospitals in England will also now include questions around sexual safety so the health service can monitor progress.

Steve Russell, Chief Delivery Officer at NHS England said: “As the biggest employer in Europe, it is right that the NHS takes a lead role in tackling sexual misconduct, violence, harassment, or abuse in the workplace.

“By signing up to this charter, NHS staff will now receive more support if they have suffered any form of misconduct, while workers will also receive further training so they can help colleagues and the patients they treat.

“NHS England is encouraging all healthcare organisations to sign up to its new sexual safety charter to ensure that a zero-tolerance approach is taken across the health sector”.

Dr Binta Sultan, Chair of NHS England’s National Clinical Network of Sexual Assault and Abuse Services said: “This charter is the start of an important journey to wipe out unwanted, inappropriate and harmful sexual behaviour in healthcare environments, making them safe for all staff and patients, and while this can be difficult subject for some, we are extremely grateful to everyone who speaks up against abuse so we can stamp it out.

“Signing up to this charter shows how committed NHS England and other healthcare organisations are to supporting those under their responsibility, where leaders will be supported to take charge and act upon signs of abuse, signposting to the appropriate support networks.

“I am happy to see NHS England lead the way, in this first sexual safety charter, collaborating alongside those with lived experience. We will have plenty of work ahead so we can bring this pledge to fruition – we owe to it to our patients and staff”.

Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers said: “Improving sexual safety in the workplace requires the collective efforts of all parts of the sector. NHS Employers is supporting the charter developed by NHS England as an important step forward in making a positive change for all of those working in the NHS.

“We will work with our members and trade union colleagues to support action to ensure reporting and addressing sexual harassment and misogyny”.

Dr Chelcie Jewitt, co-founder of Surviving in Scrubs said: “As an organisation which advocates for survivors of interprofessional sexual misconduct within the healthcare workforce, we are pleased to see the introduction of this charter by NHS England.

“This is a clear sign that the NHS is taking its responsibility towards protecting its staff seriously, with clear guidance of what should be happening within individual trusts to help support survivors.

“We will continue to engage and work with NHS England to ensure that the voices of survivors are heard throughout the implementation of this charter, as it is such important work that needs to be executed appropriately so survivors are protected and supported effectively”.

Professor Carrie Newlands, a consultant surgeon from the Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery said: “The charter is an important early step in addressing sexual misconduct in healthcare. It really matters for these words to be followed by action, so the workforce can feel able to speak up safely and these unacceptable behaviours are robustly dealt with”.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners said: “We unequivocally support this vital charter. It is critical that all branches of our health service take every necessary measure to safeguard against any forms of sexism, sexual harassment or assault. Everyone should be able to do their job to the best of their ability without fear or threat of abuse and we must ensure that staff are supported at all times.

“This codified charter commits all participating organisations to vigilance of inappropriate behaviour and will ensure that the safety of our staff is a top priority across the NHS”.

The Patient Safety Commissioner is endorsing the charter with the following comment: “I call on all healthcare organisations to sign up to the sexual safety in healthcare charter and then live by it. This will ensure that all workers and learners are safe at work, which is fundamental to delivering high quality safe care”.

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Anaesthetists said: “In committing to the charter, the Royal College of Anaesthetists in line with its work on workplace wellbeing, seeks to promote a culture that champions openness and transparency. The charter is important as it sends a very clear message that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated and the responsibility to create a safe culture sits with all healthcare professionals”.

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