STAFF at Barnsley Hospital were the subject of hundreds of sexual harassment incidents last year, new figures have revealed.

For the first time ever, the NHS Staff Survey - an annual poll of all NHS staff, with more than 600,000 responses - asked workers if they had been the target of unwanted sexual behaviour in the previous 12 months, which includes inappropriate language, sexual jokes or assault.

The survey showed 9.2 per cent of 2,248 respondents at Barnsley Hospital said they experienced at least one incident of unwanted sexual behaviour by a member of the public in 2023.

Meanwhile, a further 2.4 per cent of staff said a fellow colleague or other staff had behaved in an undesired sexual manner towards them on at least one occasion.

It means there were at least 260 incidents of sexual harassment towards staff at Barnsley Hospital last year.

Across England, 8.7 per cent of staff said they experienced unwanted sexual behaviour from a member of the public, while this fell to 3.8 per cent for fellow staff members.

Professor Vivien Lees, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said gathering data on sexual harassment ‘is an important step as it gives us a better picture of the scale of the problem’.

NHS England launched its sexual safety charter in September, which commits to enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to any unwanted sexual behaviours in the workplace.

Barnsley Hospital signed the pledge.

Professor Lees added: “It is essential staff members feel empowered to report instances of misconduct without fear of reprisal or negative impact on their career progression.”

Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of the British Medical Association council, said the survey portrays a ‘distressingly grim reality of healthcare professionals’ experiences’.

Dr Runswick praised the inclusion of unwanted sexual behaviour stats for the first time, but added the figures are ‘deeply troubling and utterly unacceptable, underscoring the urgent need to incorporate third-party harassment into any measures aimed at safeguarding staff from sexual harassment’.

The figures showed ambulance staff experienced the highest rate of sexual harassment from both the public and other staff members last year.

Dr Navina Evans, chief workforce, training and education officer at NHS England, said: “It is very distressing that more than 58,000 NHS staff reported experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour from the public last year and such conduct should not be tolerated.

“That is why the NHS launched its first ever sexual safety charter last year which provides clear commitments to improve reporting on unacceptable behaviour, as well as appointing more than 300 domestic abuse and sexual violence leads who will review and improve trust policies for reporting of sexual harassment.”

The survey also revealed higher rates of bullying and discrimination against ethnic minorities than white staff, with 28.6 per cent reporting suffering harassment, abuse or bullying from the public, compared to 24.7 per cent of white people.

It suggests an ethnic minority member of staff is 16 per cent more likely to experience bullying from a member of the public than a white staff member.

However, at Barnsley Hospital, 24.2 per cent of ethnic minorities reported suffering harassment from a patient - broadly the same proportion as their white colleagues.

A spokesperson said two new questions had been introduced nationally into the 2023 NHS staff survey, asking colleagues if they had been the target of unwanted sexual behaviour in the previous 12 months.

The behaviour is defined as ranging from inappropriate language, jokes or assault.

In Barnsley, 91.6 per cent of respondents had not experienced unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature from patients/service users, their relatives or members of the public.

In addition, 97.6 per cent had not experienced unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature from other colleagues.

The spokesperson said: “The survey information is important to the Trust as we actively work to eradicate sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.

“There are many reporting and supportive mechanisms in place for those colleagues experiencing these behaviours to be able to raise any concern and to know that all reports are taken seriously.”