Concerns for underreporting of sexual abuse within the NHS
Over the past 5 years, more than 35,606 ‘sexual safety incidents’ were reported by NHS hospitals in England, according to an NHS response to a Freedom of Information request and Guardian investigation.
‘Sexual safety incidents’ ranged from verbal abuse to rape, including gang rape. Police figures for sexual crimes on NHS premises show large numbers of sexual assaults, rape, and numerous offences against children including grooming, sexual assault, sexual communication with a child, and inciting sexual activity with a child. Abuse is being committed against staff members and against patients.
The volume of abuse being committed in hospitals, GP surgeries, and mental health units is truly staggering. However, experts are raising concerns that the numbers reported from the NHS are too low and fear ‘hidden figures’ of sexual abuse which are not being reported. Shockingly, some NHS Trusts stated they did not even keep records of sexual misconduct reports. This is cause for serious concern as accurate records of reports of sexual misconduct are critical to identifying perpetrators of abuse and holding them accountable within in the criminal and civil courts, and also within any NHS internal procedures. Survivors who report abuse within the NHS and later find out there was no record of the sexual misconduct they reported can feel further traumatised, and even gaslighted.
To make things worse, NHS Trusts throughout England fail to have sexual safety policies in place to protect patients and staff and provide adequate reporting and investigation procedures for victims who report sexual abuse.
Only one NHS Trust in England has specific training for staff on prevention of sexual harassment according to research from the University of Cambridge from May 2023.
The researchers believe the actual figures of sexual abuse within NHS Trusts in England is more likely to be around 120,000 cases compared to the 35,606 reported by the NHS.
The lack of informed training and policies combined with poor procedures for recording and investigation reports of sexual abuse can result in victims of abuse not having their reports of abuse investigated properly and even worse, not feeling able to come forward and report abuse at all.
No one seeking or providing medical services should be exposed to sexual abuse. Much more is needed to be done by the NHS to inform, protect, and investigate sexual abuse. Swift action is needed as a matter of urgency for those who have suffered abuse.
Survivors and victims of sexual abuse have a right to claim compensation and hold their abusers to account for the traumas they perpetrated. A civil claim can provide victims compensation for the pain and suffering experienced and can even include funding for therapy to help cope with the effects of abuse.
If you have experienced sexual abuse as a patient, staff member, or visitor at the NHS, and would like to speak about bringing a claim for compensation, you can contact me or my colleagues in our specialist abuse team directly. I am a solicitor that acts on behalf of survivors of abuse, and I can offer you free, no-obligation advice about your rights.