'Snowflake doctors need to toughen up': Retired anaesthetist saysSeptember 13, 2023
‘Snowflake doctors need to toughen up’: Retired anaesthetist sparks backlash after telling medics, ‘four A*s at A-level are not the answer to all the problems they will face’ after female NHS surgeons shared accounts of sex assaults by male colleagues
- Survey claims 1 in 3 female NHS surgeons sexually assaulted in last five years
A retired anaesthetist has sparked a furious backlash for saying ‘snowflake doctors need to toughen up’ after female NHS surgeons shared horrific stories of sex assaults by male colleagues.
Women NHS surgeons revealed yesterday that they have suffered a torrent of sexual assaults by colleagues in the workplace – including one man who wiped his sweaty brow on their breasts and another who rubbed his erect penis up against them.
But in a letter to The Times, Dr Peter Hilton – who served as a consultant anaesthetist between 1986 to 2020 – warned incoming medical students ‘perhaps four A*s at A-level are not the answer to all the problems they will face’.
The retired doctor from Haverfordwest said: ‘Medical training and practice is brutal and demanding, with long hours, and bullying happens.
‘Sexually inappropriate comments and actions do occur. It is stressful. All I can say is that if they want to make a success of this rewarding career then they should toughen up.’
The comments have led to a huge outcry from the medical community, who have accused the doctor of ‘condon(ing) sexual assault’.
Roshana Mehdian-Staffell, a trainee trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, spoke of a ‘boys’ club mentality’ and said one colleague made a comment about her ‘sexy’ ankles in short trousers. She called out the comments adding ‘he (and others like him) were the reason it went unchallenged for so long’
Responding to the letter this morning, the trainee surgeon said ‘my mind is actually blown’
Liz O’Riordan, who was a consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon before retiring four years ago, said she regularly experienced sexual harassment during her career of more than 20 years
Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke said the letter was ‘unbelievable’ and ‘shows exactly why disgusting sexual abuse in the NHS still thrives and prospers’
Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke added: ‘Yesterday we learned of the disgusting sexual abuse female surgeons experience in the NHS.
‘Today, writing in the Times, recently retired anaesthetist Peter Hilton unintentionally shows exactly why disgusting sexual abuse in the NHS still thrives & prospers. Unbelievable.’
Roshana Mehdian-Staffell, a trainee trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, spoke out yesterday about the ‘boys’ club mentality’ within the profession before detailing her experiences.
While she was training, a surgeon took her to a satellite clinic in his car and put his hand on her thigh.
In the sluice room – where waste is disposed of – she said: ‘I’ve had people stand behind me and grind themselves into me.’
Responding to Dr Hilton’s comments today, she wrote on X: ‘My mind is actually blown It’s stressful so men can and will sexually harass you?’
‘He’s (and others like him) the reason it went unchallenged for so long’, she added.
Former NHS doctor turned comedian Adam Kay said on X: ‘The sheer number of messages I got from (old, male) doctors after I published “This is Going to Hurt” telling me to toughen up was astonishing.
‘To think they’d also condone sexual assault is beyond appalling.’
Broadcaster Shelagh Forgarty shared the letter captioned ‘Jesus wept’.
Meanwhile economist Tony Yates wrote: ‘Ethics aside I have to say that as a patient I’d prefer that my surgeon not have to face ‘sexually inappropriate comments and actions’ while she is fixing my insides. Thanks.’
The survey gave glimpse into the toxic environment victims have faced while in NHS operating theatres over the last year.
One woman claimed she was sexually assaulted by a consultant who pushed his head into her cleavage while their patient was anaesthetised on the operating table.
Another consultant plastic surgeon said a male colleague went to give her a hug before rubbing himself against her and saying: ‘You probably felt my erection then.’
A third claimed she was regularly sexually harassed at work and that one colleague once told her to always wear short trousers ‘because your ankles are really sexy’.
And a fourth said she had suffered ‘knuckle brushes on your breasts, touching your bum, comments about your sex life, lewd suggestions to make you blush’.
Philippa Jackson said she was discussing a patient with a male colleague when he tried to give her a hug, rubbed himself against her and said: ‘You probably felt my erection then’
Former NHS doctor turned comedian Adam Kay said on X: ‘To think they also condone sexual assault is beyond appalling’
Economist Tony Yates said ‘as a patient I’d prefer that my surgeon not have to face “sexually inappropriate comments and actions”‘
Broadcaster Shelagh Forgarty shared the letter captioned ‘Jesus wept’
Dr Mehdian-Staffell, a trainee trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, spoke out yesterday about the ‘boys’ club mentality’ within the profession before detailing her experiences.
Eleven instances of rape were reported by surgeons who took part in the study, published this morning in the British Journal of Surgery.
The survey found 29 per cent of women who responded had experienced unwanted physical advances at work, more than 40 per cent receiving uninvited comments about their body and 38 per cent receiving sexual banter at work.
Almost 90 per cent of women said they had witnessed sexual misconduct in the past five years with 81 per cent of men giving the same answer.
One surgeon claimed she was sexually assaulted by a consultant who wiped his sweaty brow on her breasts.
The woman, named only as Judith, was ‘humiliated’ by her colleague who ‘smirked’ after she suggested getting him a towel and told her: ‘No, this is much more fun.’
The attack on the woman, who was a junior surgeon at the time but is now a consultant, was said to have taken place in an operating theatre full of other staff.
Judith told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: ‘I was assisting a consultant on a case. I guess he’d got a bit sweaty, but turned round and just buried his head right into my breasts. And I realised he was wiping his brow on me.
‘And you just freeze, right? Why is his face in my cleavage, you know? And then a little while later he turns round, he does exactly the same thing all over again.
‘So I said: “Excuse me, do you want me to get you a towel?” And he said “no, this is much more fun”. And it was the smirk and just everything about it. I felt dirty, I felt humiliated.’
Philippa Jackson, a consultant plastic surgeon from Bristol, told The Times that she was discussing a patient with a male colleague when he tried to give her a hug.
She said: ‘He made some noises and rubbed himself against me. And then, as he backed away, he said “You probably felt my erection then,” and he also told me he could see down my top.’
Ms Jackson said she did not want to make a fuss because ‘we were about to go into theatre and I don’t think I had properly registered what had happened’.
Later that evening, she was working with the same colleague who offered to tie up her gown, which is a normal procedure among surgeons.
But she claimed he said “now you’ve given me permission to tie you up under any circumstances” – before kissing her on her neck from behind.
She also claimed to have ‘no faith in the system’ to protect her from attackers like the colleague who assaulted her.
Liz O’Riordan, who was a consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon before retiring four years ago, said she regularly experienced sexual harassment during her career of more than 20 years.
She told The Times: ‘It was usually in theatre, when you’re operating next to your boss, your superiors, and your peers. You’re wearing thin cotton scrubs and you have full body contact.
Almost one in three female surgeons working in the NHS have been sexually assaulted in the last five years, according to a new survey (file image)
The percentage of respondents to the survey who witnessed, or were the target of, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape by gender over the past five years
‘It was knuckle brushes on your breasts, touching your bum, comments about your sex life, lewd suggestions to make you blush. And when it happens, no one else in the theatre responds.’
Ms O’Riordan, who has previously written about her experiences in The Mail on Sunday, added that she also had a ‘fear of speaking out when your job depends on the training and references from the person harassing you’.
One said: ‘You’ve got short trousers on – make sure you always wear them because your ankles are really sexy.’
The report in the British Journal of Surgery concluded: ‘Sexual misconduct occurs frequently and appears to go unchecked in the surgical environment owing to a combination of a deeply hierarchical structure and a gender and power imbalance.
‘The result is an unsafe working environment and an unsafe space for patients.’
Compiled by the University of Exeter from 1,436 responses to an anonymous online survey, the survey was commissioned by The Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery.
This is a group of NHS surgeons, clinicians and researchers who say they are ‘working to raise awareness of sexual misconduct in surgery, to bring about cultural and organisational change’.
Consultant surgeon Tamzin Cuming, who chairs the Women in Surgery forum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the report presents ‘some of the most appalling facts ever to come out’ about the field and ‘represents a MeToo moment for surgery’.
Writing in The Times, she said: ‘Our research reveals an environment where sexual assault, harassment and rape can occur among staff working in surgery but allows it to be ignored because the system protects those carrying it out rather than those affected.
‘We need urgent change in the oversight of how healthcare investigates itself.’
She called for the creation of a national implementation panel to oversee action on the report’s recommendations and for incidents of sexual misconduct to be independently investigated.
She said: ‘No one should need to call for a code of conduct that says, in essence, ‘please do not molest your work colleagues or students’, and yet this is one of the actions our report recommends.
‘The report is measured, its recommendations achievable, but this shouldn’t disguise the anger and frustration felt by many in our profession.’
The results have been presented to NHS England, the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association.
Dr Binta Sultan, who chairs NHS England’s national clinical network of sexual assault and abuse services, said the report presented ‘clear evidence’ that action was needed to make hospitals a safer environment.
She told the BBC: ‘We are already taking significant steps to do this, including through commitments to provide more support and clear reporting mechanisms to those who have suffered harassment or inappropriate behaviour.’
Tim Mitchell, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said such behaviour had ‘no place… anywhere in the NHS’.
Describing it as ‘abhorrent’, he said: ‘We will not tolerate such behaviour in our ranks.’
The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘The Health and Social Care Secretary is clear that sexual violence or misconduct of any kind is unacceptable and has no place in the NHS.
‘He is working closely with NHS leaders to root out this unacceptable behaviour and ensure services are always safe for staff and patients.
‘In partnership with the Royal Colleges, staff, regulators and trade unions, the NHS recently launched the healthcare system’s first organisational sexual safety charter.
‘Signatories commit to taking and enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to any unwanted, inappropriate and/or harmful sexual behaviours within the workplace.’
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