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Researchers find most NHS trusts in England don’t offer sexual harassment prevention training

The majority of NHS trusts in England don’t have training courses to stop sexual harassment, new research has found.

The findings, which come from the University of Cambridge and have been published in JRSM Open, show that fewer than one in five NHS trusts provided active bystander training.

This equips staff members with the tools to recognise and step in when they spot worrying behaviour.

To evaluate the extent to which these training programmes were being rolled out to NHS professionals, the University of Cambridge sent Freedom of Information requests to 213 NHS trusts across England in December 2021.

The researchers found that, of the 199 responses they got, only 35 offered active bystander training, with just five of those saying their training addressed sexual harassment directly. The other 30 indicated their training centred around curbing antisocial behaviour in general.

Ultimately, the researchers found that only one trust delivered training that tackled workplace sexual harassment specifically.

Additionally, only 23 of the 164 trusts that said they don’t offer the training said they had plans to implement it in the future, with one organisation actively working on a scheme that incorporated active bystander training.

Other trusts said they would implement such training if people campaigned for it or saw the need for it, according to the University of Cambridge.

Dr Sarah Steele is the deputy director of the Intellectual Forum at Jesus College which is a part of the University of Cambridge. She said: “The NHS is failing to take advantage of a very effective training tool to address workplace harassment, sexual harassment and other forms of unacceptable behaviour such as bullying and racism. It’s a tool well used by the military, universities and educators, and which even the UN and UK government promotes.

“We found low uptake of active bystander training among NHS Trusts in England, particularly outside of London, and very little of the training that was on offer focused on sexual harassment. This is deeply worrying, given the continued problem of sexual harassment in the healthcare sector.

“Organisations need to encourage active bystander training from the very first days of undergraduate degrees through to the day of retirement. Without this, the problems of sexual harassment will continue to be a problem in the NHS and across wider society.”

Furthermore, the researchers also identified issues with the provision of the training, with 27 out of the 35 trusts using external providers, which rendered the researchers unable to investigate the efficacy of the training.

The researchers also noted that participants couldn’t share training resources as a result of the training being provided by third parties, inhibiting dissemination and more widespread upskilling.

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