A MeToo reckoning can't come too soon in the NHS… says JENNI MURRAY

A MeToo reckoning can't come too soon in the NHS… says JENNI MURRAY

July 13, 2022

A MeToo reckoning can’t come too soon in the NHS… says JENNI MURRAY

  • Jenni Murray is surprised by the launch of an online campaign by two female doctors hailed as healthcare’s own #MeToo moment  
  • GP Dr Becky Cox and emergency medicine trainee Dr Chelcie Jewitt are encouraging other female healthcare staff to share their stories of harassment 
  • UK-based writer, Jenni speaks to women who have shared their stories of abuse 

Why am I not surprised by the launch of an online campaign by two female doctors hailed as healthcare’s own #MeToo moment. Under the banner ‘Surviving In Scrubs’, GP Dr Becky Cox and emergency medicine trainee Dr Chelcie Jewitt are encouraging other female healthcare staff to share their stories of harassment and abuse. 

The hope is that the General Medical Council will explicitly denounce sexist and misogynist behaviour towards female colleagues and insist they are treated with respect.

It has only been up for a matter of weeks, but there are already dozens of experiences on the website, anything from sexual abuse and rape threats by patients, to inappropriate remarks and sexual advances from supervisors. 

Why I am not surprised? I remember long ago talking to the obstetric consultant, Wendy Savage, about why she had insisted on being known as Mrs Wendy Savage. It was, she said, the only way to fight off advances from young chaps who were less interested in what she could teach them than how fast they could get her into bed. 

Jenni Murray is surprised by the launch of an online campaign by two female doctors hailed as healthcare’s own #MeToo moment. When female doctors complain to their supervisors about their fear of sexual harassment from patients or other doctors

It was also necessary to convince men in senior positions that it was possible for a woman to function just as they did — married, parent and very good doctor. 

I might have thought that some 50 years on, things might have improved. Not so. A long conversation with an old friend, who’s now in a senior position as an NHS consultant, confirmed what these young women have been saying. 

When she was a medical student in the 1990s, it was a bit like the 1954 film, and later TV series, Doctor In The House. A Sir Lancelot Spratt ruled the roost and a Dr Simon Sparrow struggled to pass his exams while causing chaos with his high-­spirited friends. Get-­ ting the girl was the primary ambition, while avoiding the censure of the fearsome Sister Virtue. 

As a young doctor, my friend endured endless flirtation from senior doctors, constant references to how ‘sexily her stethoscope sat between her ample breasts’, patients expressing amazement at ‘oooh! A lady doctor’ and frequent pats on her bottom as she turned from treating them. She was called ‘a surprisingly clever little girl’ by a consultant after making a difficult diagnosis, but, most worryingly, she felt her sex had caused her to be passed over for promotion.

Jenni Murray (pictured) says there are far too many examples of women’s healthcare being neglected or even ignored because everything has been centred on men

‘Rising in the profession has long been dependent on the patronage of a senior consultant,’ she told me. ‘Time and again I would see a young, not very bright or experienced lad get a job I wanted. Often, I would find his dad had been at the same school as the boss.’ 

Things, it appears, are no different today. On the Surviving In Scrubs site, one female doctor reports that she’d learned of a competition between male doctors in a hospital’s stroke ward. Which of them would be the first to sleep with the whole of a multidisciplinary team? Another young doctor tells of the moment she told her boss she was pregnant. He said he wasn’t surprised because ‘her breasts were much bigger than they used to be’. 

When female doctors complain to their supervisors about their fear of sexual harassment from patients or other doctors, the response is seldom helpful. One was told, bizarrely, ‘there is nothing I can do other than to eat ten doughnuts every night’. 

A report published last year by the British Medical Association shows that evidence of sexism in healthcare is widespread. Two-and-a-half thousand doctors were surveyed in the NHS for the report. Shockingly, 91 per cent of female respondents had experienced sexism at work in the past two years and 61 per cent of women felt they had been discouraged from working in a particular speciality. 

My friend recalls how often she was told, ‘a scalpel doesn’t belong in a female hand. Try paediatrics instead’. She finally achieved her ambition, but it was a long haul. 

This is not only bad news for doctors, nurses, paramedics and all the other women who keep the Health Service afloat, it’s bad for female patients, too. If young men are getting the best jobs simply because they’re male or have influential fathers, what brilliant women are we missing out on because misogyny and sexism has held them back? 

I’ve had some great male doctors, but I’ve also suffered some horrors. Men who simply didn’t seem to understand that an internal exam can be horribly painful, especially for a young woman terrified she’s got an ectopic pregnancy. Now I think, give me a woman any day because a) she must be brilliant to continue in the face of such opposition and b) she will, at least, under-­ stand the way my body works. 

There are far too many examples of women’s healthcare being neglected or even ignored because everything has been centred on men. Earlier this year, The Mail on Sunday’s Dr Ellie Cannon wrote, ‘Women, it’s time for a healthcare revolution’, admitting that ‘decades (probably centuries) of gender inequality have led to poorer outcomes for women across all aspects of health’. 

Evidence collated by the Department of Health’s proposed Women’s Health Strategy for England last year told us what most of us already know because we’ve been there. 

Women interviewed for the research complained that they’re not listened to and, worse, are told they’ll grow out of all kinds of pain — we won’t! 

We’re told we make too much fuss. It’s clear women patients are regarded as not to be trusted or, indeed, cared about. 

Dr Cannon is right: a revolution is exactly what we need. 

It’s curtains for Helen’s dress sense 

Jenni says that Helen Mirren (pictured) looked ‘gorgeous’ in a Dolce & Gabbana dress at the designers’ Alta Moda show in Sicily 

Helen Mirren looking gorgeous as always in her very expensive Dolce & Gabbana dress at the designers’ Alta Moda show in Sicily this week. Love the frock. Not sure I’d be keen to match the curtains. 

The Pill for pesky squirrels 

British scientists have designed a new oral contraception for squirrels to reduce the population of greys 

Please can I have some of the new oral contraception for squirrels? Designed by British scientists, it aims to reduce the population of grey squirrels and protect the red. I need enough to fix the little monster who terrorises the birds in my garden and steals all their food. 

  • Two more weeks to the hopeful safe return of my Ukrainian guests Zoriana and Ustym, currently in Lviv for Ustym’s school exams. As the kitchen is Zoriana’s favourite place, I’m having a refurb done this week. Hope she likes it.

I loved the 1976 heatwave; 2022 not so much

Here I am, blinds closed, fan on, refusing to go outside even to walk the dogs, who agree with me that it’s just too hot. The weather forecasters now say 40c (104f) might be possible over the weekend. I understand what that will mean: stay home! So different from the famous heatwave of 1976. I was 26 and working at Radio Bristol. Every chance was taken to race to a beach, slathered in olive oil, brown as a chip. How sensible one learns to be. 

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