BMA launches urgent inquiry into sexual harassmentRita Dune
BMA launches urgent inquiry into sexual harassment
Move comes after some of UK’s most senior female doctors said there was widespread harassment at top of profession
Allegations by some of the UK’s most senior female doctors of widespread sexual harassment at the top of the medical profession have forced the British Medical Association to launch an urgent investigation.
Dr Zoe Norris and Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, who are members of the general practice committee (GPC), the body which represents all GPs, have chosen to blow the whistle on misogynistic behaviour of some members and the sexist culture of the male-dominated committee.
Hundreds of colleagues have contacted them after Bramall-Stainer complained last month about being called a “naughty girl” by a member of the committee before giving a speech in Belfast.
Norris is stepping down in protest from the GPC and says her experiences have “taken a significant toll on her mental health”.
In an article for GPonline.com aimed at blowing the lid on the “dinosaur-infested depths of GP politics”, they say they and others were subject to ongoing belittling and tiresome innuendo. This is based on their own experience and 420 replies from others.
One of their colleagues was sent an unsolicited naked picture by a committee member, they claim. Two members of GPC were overheard “braying loudly their guestimated bra size” of a committee member, the article says. It adds that another local medical committee chief executive faced a sexually explicit proposition after giving a speech.
The article alleges that a former GPC member, Dr Stephanie deGiorgio, was patted on the knee and, like Bramall-Stainer, was called a “naughty girl” by a fellow committee member.
The BMA issued an apology to the women involved and promised an inquiry. In a statement its chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, also thanked the whistleblowers involved.
He said: “Sexist, disrespectful, discriminatory and abusive behaviour will not be tolerated in this association and must be stamped out.”
He added: “We will be launching an urgent investigation … and we are reaching out to affected members to invite them to be an integral part of this. We would also ask that any member who feels they have experienced discriminatory or abusive behaviour to contact us”.
Bramall-Stainer said the BMA’s response did not go far enough because it failed to guarantee that the inquiry would be independent.
She said: “Saying we will not tolerate something isn’t good enough, because it is happening. We need to see an external professional organisation commissioned that would be wholly independent. Those involved in these behaviours cannot be involved in its investigation.”
She also called for membership of the GPC to reflect the current gender balance among GPs. Women are currently outnumbered by two to one on the 77-strong committee, but make up 58% of GPs.
Bramall-Stainer refused to identify the men involved but said she would consider giving details to an investigation if it was genuinely independent.
She said: “I have experienced explicit behaviour from perhaps half a dozen men but I don’t want to get drawn into numbers because it is more about the wider context. Naming names makes it a personal issue, and you can then get rid of those people, but the problem still persists.
“It is an institutional problem and therefore we need to change the behaviour. We are happy to raise our heads above the parapet, but this is a problem that many many on the committee have experienced.”
She is concerned that the BMA is not committed to tackling misogyny among its leadership.
She said: “When this first came to light, there were senior voices within the BMA leadership who said: ‘Shouldn’t we be corroborating first?’ That shows the difficulty we are facing when the senior leadership are wringing their hands about what to do when faced with inconvertible qualitative evidence from people who have been around for many years. I’ve been on GPC for 12 years and I’m loyal to my trade union, but I need it to be in great shape, and it is not in great shape.”
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