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Retired doctor sparks fury after telling harassed female surgeons to ‘toughen up’

A retired NHS anaesthetist has sparked fury after suggesting that female surgeons who have experienced sexual harassment should “toughen up” (File picture)  (PA Archive)
A retired NHS anaesthetist has sparked fury after suggesting that female surgeons who have experienced sexual harassment should “toughen up” (File picture) (PA Archive)

A retired NHS anaesthetist has sparked fury after suggesting that female surgeons who have experienced sexual harassment should “toughen up”.

Dr Peter Hilton, from Pembrokeshire, accused young doctors of being part of a “snowflake generation” and called on them to “toughen up”.

In a letter to The Times, Dr Hilton said that “bullying happens” in the medical sector and “sexually inappropriate comments and actions do occur”.

Leading members of the Royal College of Anaesthetists said they were “disgusted” by his comments, adding: “Attitudes such as Dr Hilton's do not represent the views of our members but do perhaps demonstrate why sexual misconduct is sadly so widespread within healthcare.

“It is vital we do everything we can to eradicate these attitudes and behaviours.”

His comments came after a survey revealed that almost one in three female surgeons have been sexually assaulted in the past five years.

The survey, by the British Journal of Surgery, also found 29 per cent of women who responded had experienced unwanted physical advances at work, and 11 instances of rape were reported by surgeons who took part in the study.

More than 1,400 female surgeons responded to the anonymous online survey commissioned by The Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery (WPSMS) – a group of NHS surgeons, clinicians and researchers who say they are “working to raise awareness of sexual misconduct in surgery, to bring about cultural and organisational change”.

A group of 55 consultants from Swansea Bay health board, including some who worked with Dr Hilton, signed a letter calling his views “repulsive”.

“Far from being snowflakes, our young doctors are lively, interested, savvy and dedicated to their careers. Expecting that they'll be treated with respect by their colleagues is the bare minimum, and we strongly support them in this demand.

“Dr Hilton's dismissal of bullying, sexism and sexual harassment as mere workplace inconveniences is out of step with the profession in the 21st Century.”

Dr Hilton stood by his comments in an interview with the newspaper, saying: “If these girls want to be a surgeon, they are going to have to deal with much more difficult things than another surgeon saying something inappropriate.”

But he denied that he was “condoning sexual harassment”, adding that any allegations of criminal behaviour should be investigated.

Dr Binta Sultan, who chairs NHS England’s national clinical network of sexual assault and abuse services, said the WPSMS report presents “clear evidence” that action is needed to make hospitals a safer environment.

She told the BBC: “We are already taking significant steps to do this, including through commitments to provide more support and clear reporting mechanisms to those who have suffered harassment or inappropriate behaviour.”