One in three female NHS surgeons has been sexually assaulted

Samantha Redgrave-Hogg
By Samantha Redgrave-Hogg,
updated on Sep 12, 2023


Nearly one in three female surgeons working in the NHS have been sexually assaulted in the last five years, as stated by a study compiled by the University of Exeter and published in the British Journal of Surgery

The findings shared with the BBC and the Times newspaper included 1,436 responses from NHS surgeons, researchers, and clinicians who want to raise awareness of sexual misconduct in surgery.

Devastatingly, just under one-third (30%) of those who responded to the anonymous online survey commissioned by The Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery had been sexually assaulted. The majority (90%) of the women surveyed said they’d seen sexual misconduct in the workplace, 29% had experienced unwanted physical advances, and more than 40% had been subjected to unwelcome comments about their bodies.

Chair of the Women in Surgery forum at the Royal College of Surgeons, Tamzin Cumin, says the report shows “some of the most appalling facts ever to come out”, going on to call this a MeToo moment for surgery.

The BBC talked to a surgeon who was subjected to non-consensual sex by a senior surgeon when working as a trainee. She says, "I didn't feel I could make a fuss, I felt like there was a very strong culture of just putting up with whatever was done to you", highlighting the culture of silence with this behaviour. She talks about the breach of trust and the paralysing impacts of what happened.

What is enthusiastic consent? Enthusiastic consent means an emphatic yes, rather than an absence of no. Giving your consent to sex means you are giving your full permission and have the capacity to understand exactly what you’re consenting to. Someone can give their initial consent to a sexual act but change their mind; consent can be withdrawn at any point.

Counsellor Beverly Chambers (MBACP) talks about how difficult it is for survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault to open up, sharing some of the traumatic ongoing repercussions in her article, The journey after sexual abuse.

In many cases, the perpetrators of sexual abuse are people who are in a position of trust. For this reason, trust can be an ongoing issue throughout adult life, with intimacy being a struggle at times.

Dr Binta Sultan, from NHS England’s sexual assault and abuse services talks about the need to make hospitals safe, “We are already taking significant steps to do this, including through commitments to provide more support and clear reporting mechanisms to those who have suffered harassment or inappropriate behaviour.”

If you would like to know more about how working with an experienced professional after a sexual assault can help with acceptance and building a relationship with trust, you can read Seeking counselling after sexual violence by Counselling Directory member and social worker Nicola Griffiths (MBACP DIPSW BAHons).

If you’ve been affected by the issues talked about in the report, there is support available, including:

Join 100,000+ subscribers

Stay in the loop with everything Happiful

We care about your data, read our privacy policy
Our Vision

We’re on a mission to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable society.