Nursing Helpline

New sexual harassment helpline for nurses

By Gemma Raw

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has launched a new phone line for members and staff who have experienced sexual harassment. The launch follows on from the RCN's decision earlier this year to move its annual Congress online because of 'serious allegations of sexual harassment'. The confidential line is for use by any College members or staff who have suffered any form of sexual harassment while engaged in any RCN activity or event. Nurses and others who call will be connected with a highly-trained counsellor who can offer support, signposting to resources and, if appropriate, assistance with escalating the issue through a formal complaints procedure.

"All staff and members have a right to feel safe and we are taking all necessary steps to provide that security," said Pat Cullen, RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive. "We must tackle the issues and behaviours that have no place in the college. We must demand better, for members and for the profession."

Sexual harassment in nursing roles

The RCN's focus on sexual harassment is part of a wider picture. In June this year, a survey by Nursing Times and the union UNISON found that three in five nurses have been sexually harassed at work, with many being made to believe that it's simply a fact of life in nursing. Of more than 2,000 nursing staff and students surveyed, 60% said that they had experienced sexual harassment at work, while 39% had witnessed a colleague being the victim of sexual harassment. Of the respondents who had been sexually harassed, only 27% had reported it to their employers.

Amongst all respondents to the survey, the most common form of reported sexual harassment was verbal. However, 37% of respondents had experienced physical harassment, such as groping during manual handling procedures.

"Harassment of any form is simply wrong," commented Josie Irwin, UNISON's National Women's Officer. "Staff working in the NHS must be able to do their jobs without fear of unwanted attention, lewd remarks or being made to feel uncomfortable."

The problem of sexual harassment can be particularly acute for mental health nurses, who are often dealing with patients whose mental health conditions can cause them to act in inappropriate ways, both towards nursing staff and other patients. For community nurses, there's been a call for better understanding and recognition of the risks associated with lone working in strangers' homes.

Full review

The RCN is carrying out a full review of all its safeguarding policies and procedures. In addition, an independent review into the culture of the College is being led by Bruce Carr QC, a highly respected expert in employment law.

The RCN sexual harassment reporting line is available on 0800 032 3521. The line is open 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday and 9am to 4.30pm, Saturdays and Sundays.

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