NHS Trust bosses bullied and hounded female staff for sex
by Felicity Collier
FEMALE NHS ambulance staff have spoken out against widespread “highly sexualised” harassment — including being hounded for sexual favours in return for promotion — in a report pubished yesterday which left researchers “extremely distressed.”
Women working at South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (Secamb) said they had been groped, subjected to “highly sexual gazing” in front of patients and witnessed “sexual predators” who “groomed students.”
Forty per cent of women working for the trust across Kent, Surrey, Sussex and north-east Hampshire had experienced bullying in the last 12 months.
This included overt and covert sexualised behaviour, perpetrated by former senior leaders and front-line managers, as well as the wider workforce.
In a workplace described as a “boys’ club” in the independent report commissioned by Secamb, “female staff talked about sexual favours being sought in return for career progression whilst others were hounded by managers seeking sexual favours for personal reasons.
“Several female staff felt that such behaviours were the norm, with some stating ‘my arse was slapped regularly’ and others who felt they were demeaned by highly sexualised gazing in front of colleagues and even patients.”
Women said sexualised behaviour was embedded in parts of the management structure, though some senior staff interviewed believed those responsible had since left.
The report, which was produced by Professor Duncan Lewis from Plymouth University, also said: “Some female respondents talked about ‘sexual predators’ among male colleagues who ‘groomed students’ for sexualised ends.
“Some managers felt there was a history of comments being turned to lewd remarks but slowly these were being addressed.”
The findings followed concerns raised in the trust’s staff survey and September’s Care Quality Commission report when it was ranked inadequate and placed in special measures.
As well as sexual bullying, staff reported being shouted at, belittled, dismissed and ignored in front of others
. One employee said: “Standing up against bad behaviour puts you on a manager’s radar — excessive monitoring, more work, more pressure.”
Prof Lewis said researchers were “shocked” at the number of staff reporting a range of poor behaviour and that it was a serious problem.
He said: “The trust may not of course be aware that such a culture exists as employees are often extremely fearful of speaking out against such practices.
“However, as has been shown time after time, ignorance is no defence and too many British institutions have demonstrated failure to take matters seriously when it comes to sexual abuse.”
Further investigations will be necessary and action must be taken as an urgent priority “to protect employees who are living in fear daily,” he said.
Groups of male managers, whose careers had progressed together, were found to uphold a culture that was “stubbornly resistant” to change, the report said, adding that some senior officers were opposed to women filling senior ranks and would only talk to people of equal or higher grades.
“Time after time” researchers heard employees’ fears about speaking out about being bullied and harassed.
The report concluded: “There is indeed a culture of bullying and harassment.”