Sunday 25 September 2016

Doctors urged to speak out on sexual harassment at work

Published 03/04/2016 | 02:30

Photo: PA
Photo: PA

Junior doctors want to break the silence around sexual harassment of female medics in Irish hospitals.

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They have called on acting health minister Leo Varadkar to set up an expert group to investigate the extent to which female trainees may be afraid to complain because it will hurt their careers.

Fears that blowing the whistle on sex pests on the hospital wards will hamper career development is a very real one, delegates at the Irish Medical Organisation's (IMO) AGM in Sligo were told.

Dr John Duddy, a neurosurgical specialist registrar in Beaumont Hospital, who is the new president of the IMO, said the problem came to the surface in Australia last year and the view of experienced medics here is that it is no different in Ireland.

Doctors in male-dominated hospitals in Australia said they had experienced everything from inappropriate jokes to sexual advances from senior staff who could make or break their careers.

Some said they would not trust the complaint mechanisms in place at hospitals and colleges where there was an established culture of "untouchables".

Dr Duddy said: "We don't know what is happening in Ireland but it is something that needs to be looked at."

Irish hospitals continue to be "hierarchical" institutions and a trainee must rely on a good reference from a senior doctor when they seek a job.

The Australian probe found female surgical trainees had to give sexual favours.

Junior doctors at the AGM unanimously backed a motion calling on Mr Varadkar to set up a working group to find out the prevalence of sexual harassment across the health service. Dr John Donnellan, a trainee paediatric radiologist in Temple St Hospital said: "It is foolish for the HSE to presume that this is not an issue, when every other industry and profession recognises this, as that causes problems for their employees.

"There is no mention of support or facilities within hospitals with information on where to go," he added.

The junior doctors also want the minister to set up a task force to tackle the scourge of bullying.

It follows a survey by the Medical Council, the doctors' regulator, showing that one in three trainees is subjected to bullying at work.

Dr Duddy said the Medical Council referred to bullying as part of a "culture".

However, he said: "I do not agree with that. If you are bullied at work you are more likely to leave the health service."

He said there is silence around "doctor-on-doctor" bullying and he himself experienced it early on in his career.

"I know what it is like to have my performance in the operating theatre undermined."

Dr Duddy also condemned the low number of women in senior medical posts.

He said there needs to be a change in medical training and working hour regimes in order to make some medical posts more attractive to female doctors.

Sunday Independent

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