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Practices asked to sign up to zero-tolerance code on sexual harassment

by Julie Griffiths
6 September 2023

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GP practices are among the health service organisations being asked to sign up to NHS England’s first ‘sexual safety charter’, focused on stamping out harassment.

The aim of the charter, which has 10 pledges, is to eradicate sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour by offering staff clear reporting mechanisms, training, and support. 

The NHS staff survey – which will be extended to those working in general practice from this October – will also now include questions around sexual harassment for the first time to monitor progress.

A letter launching the initiative said that the upcoming annual staff survey will include the following question: ‘In the last 12 months, how many times have you been the target of unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature in the workplace? This may include offensive or inappropriate sexualised conversation (including jokes), touching or assault.’

NHS England has called on organisations across the health sector, including trusts, systems, and royal colleges, to sign up for the new framework and commit to implementing its principles by July 2024.

Those that sign up commit to taking and enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to any unwanted, inappropriate and/or harmful sexual behaviours within the workplace. Managers will also receive extra training to improve awareness and ensure allegations are appropriately investigated, although at this stage it’s not clear if that training will be available at practice level.

In addition, NHS England is creating gold-standard policies and support for practices and other health organisations to use as they address incidents of sexual misconduct.

Under the initiative, 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.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has given its ‘unequivocal support’ to the charter. 

RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne, said: ‘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.’

Steve Russell, NHS England chief delivery officer, said that ‘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,’ he said.

The initiative comes as the GMC’s first major update to doctor guidance in a decade also included sexual harassment.

The new Good Medical Practice guidance for doctors, published last month and due to take effect in January, takes a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment towards colleagues for the first time.