Zero tolerance of sexual harassment, including clear definitions of what constitutes it and an expectation that doctors who see such behaviour will act, will be included for the first time in new professional standards issued by the General Medical Council (GMC).

The regulator has published an update of Good medical practice, which details the principles, values and standards expected of doctors working in the UK. It is the first major update to the guidance in ten years.

Sexual harassment of colleagues is covered explicitly for the first time. The guidance says doctors ‘must not act in a sexual way towards colleagues with the effect or purpose of causing offence, embarrassment, humiliation or distress’.

The standards make clear this includes verbal or written comments and displaying or sharing images, as well as physical contact.

This adds to existing guidance that doctors must not act in a sexual way towards patients or use their professional position to ‘pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship’.

For the first time, the guidance also sets out what doctors should do if they witness bullying or harassment.

Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen, Chair of the GMC and a consultant ophthalmologist working in the NHS, said:

‘Sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination are entirely unacceptable. Where workplace cultures of this kind of behaviour go unchecked, they are detrimental to wellbeing, performance and patient safety. Doctors are increasingly, and bravely, speaking out about it, and as a regulator, it is important we leave no doubt that such behaviour has no place in our health services.

‘Those who experience harassment or discrimination must feel supported to speak out, by employers, peers, managers and leaders. We heard from thousands of doctors, patients and members of the public during this consultation. We hope that by addressing this issue so clearly in the standards, this will spark discussion on making meaningful cultural change throughout medicine.’

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