Health: Sexual harassment? It's all in a day's doctoring

"Doctor, I haven't had an orgasm for 10 years. What are you going to do about it?"

This is the closest I've got to sexual harassment from a patient. Of course, it could have been an entirely innocent question begging my professional expertise, but the fact that it came through on an emergency phone call aroused my suspicions. Fortunately, I'd been taught exactly how to respond in such a situation: "That sounds nasty. I think you should go straight to casualty." Alas, I decided against the inappropriate use of scarce hospital resources and invited her to make an appointment. Three days later, I was treated to 20 minutes of irritable bowel and nothing else. Very stressful, but hardly harassment.

As a student, I did once encounter a pair of crotchless pants, but as they were the one (and only) pair I've ever seen, I assumed the poor woman must have snagged them alighting from her bicycle. Or perhaps they'd been specially designed by a gynaecologist to keep you warm during the speculum examination. Either way, I didn't find them threatening, so I was intrigued to hear a GP describe (on Radio 1 last Thursday) how common and stressful it is for doctors to be faced with "inappropriate underwear".

The GP, alas, did not specify how a patient should judge appropriateness before panting up to see the doctor. Will only pristine white cotton ones do? What if your entire pant collection consists of black leather thongs? Are you expected to make a special trip to M&S before you see the doctor? And what about cross-dressing? Should I be alarmed by a woman in boxer shorts? Well, only if they're mine. On the whole I prefer a cleaner pant, although gut pathology doesn't always allow for this, but the only underwear I can think of that would be unequivocally inappropriate would have "F*ck me, you're a doctor" splashed across the front.

All this pant talk was on the back of a survey by Doctor magazine, which found that nearly a quarter of the 1,514 GPs who responded have been sexually harassed by patients. This makes great copy, but it's worth remembering that each GP has around half a million consultations in a professional lifetime, so we're bound to encounter the extremes of human behaviour. Also, the survey was not a random sample - GPs who read Doctor were invited to fill in the questionnaire - which may bias it towards those who have had bad experiences. These consisted of (in order of frequency) "suggestive remarks, inappropriate requests for physical examination, inappropriate physical behaviour and unwelcome gifts".

At the extreme end, 7 per cent of respondents had been victims of stalking and three doctors were so distressed they had resigned from their practice. A few months ago, I met a female GP who'd given up medicine altogether after a male patient had masturbated in front of her in the "safety" of her own consulting room. She's now studying law. "At the time, I was just paralysed with fear and disgust. But I can remember thinking just how unsafe the consulting room was. The panic buttons were on order, and the only door was behind the patient, with me trapped behind the desk. I did have a window, but this was Liverpool, so it had bars on it. So I just sat there. I did think about complaining but in the end, I thought it would be less stressful to get out altogether. It wasn't just that one incident - it was also that I was a woman, I was known in the practice for being very empathic and a good listener - and everyone eventually just took advantage of it. I just felt abused all round."

For comparison, I spoke to a female doctor who works in genito-urinary medicine. Did she feel sexually threatened working in the male clinic? "The context of the work makes a big difference. People who come to this clinic know that they're going to have their genitals inspected so we all know what to expect. If someone suddenly gets his penis out, it isn't much of a surprise. Also, I always have a chaperone available to take in with me, a luxury you don't often have in general practice." "Do patients ever get aroused?" "A few get erections, but usually it's out of anxiety - you know, doing something you know you shouldn't but you just can't control yourself." "Like farting in church?" "Exactly. But very few men sustain an erection when the swabs go in." "And do you ever feel sexually harassed?" "I get chatted up a bit - but to me that's far less offensive than the thought of men sitting at home with untreated gonorrhoea and spreading it all over the city. So you just go with the flow."

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice