Anna Bawden and David Batty

The Guardian

Anna Bawden and David Batty's investigation into sexual harassment in the NHS was a hard-hitting series of stories that laid bare the extent of sexual violence and misconduct in the NHS. A joint investigation with the British Medical Journal, it had a huge impact, was widely followed up in the UK, was endorsed in evidence submitted to the Commons' women and equalities committee and has led to action by health leaders. The investigation revealed that 35,606 “sexual safety incidents” were recorded in hospitals between 2017 and 2022. 

The term covers a spectrum of behaviours, from abusive remarks to rape, allegedly perpetrated by staff, patients or visitors. Three-quarters of the reports – 26,434 – were made in mental health trusts, and nearly 2,500 of the alleged incidents of sexual violence and misconduct were by staff on patients. More than 20,000 were by patients on hospital staff. Yet experts calculated this to be massively underreporting the scale of the issue. They estimated that more than 100,000 incidents of sexual violence and misconduct in NHS hospitals in England are not being recorded and investigated every year. 

 The joint investigation, over several months, began with freedom of information requests to every NHS trust and police force in the country, leading to months of analysis, cross-checking and scrutinising of FOI responses as they came in. The factual data was vividly brought to life by a number of first person accounts of sexual violence and harassment. David Batty and Anna Bawden painstakingly won the trust of a number of victims who had been sexually abused in hospitals. Some were staff, who were terrified of speaking out for fear of reprisals, while others were patients. 

 The investigation prompted NHS England to write to health service leaders urging them to redouble their efforts to tackle sexual harassment and to review their policies. In addition, in September, NHS England unveiled the NHS's first sexual safety charter and has also begun a review to improve how it collects data on sexual harassment and violence. Further, the NHS staff survey has this year introduced a new question to capture reports of sexual harassment at work. Meanwhile, the General Medical Council announced in August that doctors will be expected to demonstrate “zero tolerance” of sexual harassment and has published new professional standards, which for the first time introduce explicit rules on sexual harassment towards colleagues. And in October, the Commons' women and equalities select committee held an evidence session on sexual assault, harassment and misogyny with the NHS workforce as part of its inquiry on the escalation of violence against women and girls, at which the Royal College of Nursing endorsed our findings