No place for sexual misconduct in UK healthcare

Amid increasing accounts of sexual harassment and assault faced by healthcare staff, the General Medical Council (GMC) has reiterated its expectations of all doctors and employers to make sure working environments are safe, supportive and give staff the confidence to speak up if they have concerns.

Allegations of sexual misconduct by doctors, against colleagues or patients, are taken seriously by the GMC and are investigated. If a doctor’s actions suggest their fitness to practise is impaired then they will face a tribunal hearing and sanction, which could include being struck off.

Charlie Massey, the GMC’s Chief Executive, said:

‘There is absolutely no place for sexism, sexual harassment, or any form of sexual misconduct, either within or outside the workplace. The GMC condemns any such behaviour absolutely.

‘It is distressing to hear accounts of healthcare staff who have been victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Any doctor who has committed such acts should be subject to investigation by their employers or the police. Where cases are raised with us we will look at all of the evidence, and where concerns are proved doctors will face appropriate consequences. 

‘We understand how difficult it has been for those who have shared their experiences, and the impact on them and the fear that they will feel for their careers. Everyone in healthcare should expect to be treated professionally and respectfully, without fear of harassment, and within appropriate professional boundaries. 

‘Over the last few years we have carried out a significant review of how we handle these cases including improving the information and support for those involved, reviewing our decision making guidance and providing specialist training for our staff.

‘All doctors and employees working in the UK’s health systems have a responsibility to speak up and challenge these behaviours if they witness them. Doing so can be very difficult, and employers have a responsibility to make sure people can do so safely and confidently. In addition, the GMC provides a confidential helpline and guidance is available on our website.’

Support for doctors and other healthcare professionals to speak up:

Advice helplines 

  • Rights of Women's helpline provides free and confidential legal advice to women and girls in dealing with sexual harassment at work.
  • SurvivorsUK has a free, confidential national online helpline for men and boys.
  • GALOP offer a free, confidential and independent helpline and support service for all LGBT+ people who’ve experienced sexual assault, violence or abuse.
  • Victim Support offers a free and confidential telephone support for complainants, patients, witnesses and their families during a GMC investigation. You can talk to them about how you’re feeling and what to expect. They can also signpost you to specialist support organisations. 

Support for doctors and other healthcare professionals to speak up

  • Our ethical hub pages on Speaking up provide advice and tools to help doctors to raise concerns.
  • Protect is a UK wide charity that advises and supports individuals and encourages safe whistleblowing.
  • Freedom to Speak Up Guardians can support anyone in England to raise concerns.
  • The NHS Speak up helpline, available in England and Wales, offers legally compliant, unbiased support and guidance.
  • The Independent National Whistleblowing Officer available in Scotland provides information, advice and support on raising concerns.
  • The GMC’s confidential helpline can also provide guidance on how to raise concerns you might be struggling with. You can remain anonymous if you prefer. Although our staff aren’t trained to provide legal or counselling support in relation to sexual misconduct, they can signpost to other organisations. It is available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm on 0161 923 6399.