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Abuse in hospitals & healthcare settings

Sexual, physical and emotional abuse towards patients by medical professionals can happen in any healthcare setting, inpatient and community, NHS and private. 
If you were subjected to abuse when you were a patient or when receiving healthcare services in the community, you may not know where to turn to. This could involve, for example, concerns about how you have been treated by a doctor, nurse, mental health worker, therapist or GP. 
You might be worried that:
  • You have been the victim of a sexual or physical assault while you were a patient, or while you received care in the community.
  • Hospital or medical staff failed to protect you from another patient. 
  • You were subjected to an intimate or invasive examination that you did not consent to. 
  • The medical professional who abused you may still be working, and may pose a risk to other patients. 
  • Your complaint about abuse or sexual assault by a medical professional has not been taken seriously by the NHS Trust or private healthcare provider. 

Reporting the abuse you suffered in hospital or in another healthcare setting

It can be difficult to know who to speak or how to make a complaint about an assault by a member of medical staff. You may wish to:
  • Complain to the hospital, NHS trust, GP surgery or private provider where you received treatment. You can ask a receptionist or practice manager for a copy of their complaints policy, or check the institution’s website.
    • The complaints policy should tell you how to make a complaint and who to address your concerns to.  If you have a meeting about your complaint, you can ask to bring a friend or chaperone with you for support.
    • You may find it helpful to read the leaflet produced by the Patients Association called ‘Making a complaint to your GP or Hospital’ or to use the template complaint letter that the Patients Association has produced.
  • Make a report to the police. Sexual and physical abuse from a person in a position of trust is extremely serious. The police should investigate your complaint in a thorough and sensitive way. 
  • Report your complaint of abuse to a regulator who can investigate what happened and decide whether to take disciplinary steps against the medical professional involved.
The General Medical Council (‘GMC’) is the independent regulator for doctors in the UK. Its website provides you with information about how to raise a concern about a doctor and the GMC’s investigation procedure. You can use the GMC’s online form, or write to the GMC about your complaint. 
The Nursing & Midwifery Council (‘NMC’) is the independent regulator for nursing and midwifery in the UK. You can report abusive behaviour by a nurse or midwife to the NMC on its website
The UK Council for Psychotherapy (‘UKCP’) is one of the professional associations for psychotherapy practitioners in the United Kingdom. If you have a concern about the conduct of a psychotherapist or counsellor who you believe may be registered with UKCP, you can make a formal complaint and they may investigate. 
  • Make a report to your local authority if the person who has suffered the abuse is an adult or child at risk of harm. Depending on what has happened, an investigation may then be undertaken and measures taken to protect that person from any risk of further harm. 
  • Contact a specialist lawyer for initial legal advice. Time limits apply to different types of legal actions, so it is important to seek advice from an expert abuse solicitor promptly so that you understand the legal options that are available to you. 
The abuse law team at Leigh Day may be able to help if you have been subjected to abuse or an assault by a medical professional.
At Leigh Day, we recognise that representing survivors of abuse in healthcare settings requires specialist expertise. We understand that:
  • It can be difficult to recognise and accept that a medical professional may have abused the trust you placed in them, which can make it hard for you to question or challenge their conduct. 
  • Initially, you may have been confused about whether what happened to you was part of a legitimate medical procedure.
  • You might be worried that other medical staff might not believe your account or that reporting what happened may make it difficult for you to find another suitable doctor for the future. 
  • You may find it difficult to trust other doctors and healthcare professionals or you may wish to find counselling or therapeutic support with an organisation that is completely independent from the institution that failed you. 
  • You might already have made a complaint to the NHS Trust, GP surgery or private healthcare provider but be dissatisfied with their response. 
When you contact Leigh Day, your concerns will be listened to sensitively and your enquiry will remain strictly confidential. We will explain whether we may be able to provide you with legal advice. Time limits do apply to civil claims, but we may still be able to help if the abuse happened a number of years ago. For more information, you can read our Factsheet, Top 10 FAQs about an abuse claim.
If you are the parent or family member of a patient, and you are concerned that your relative may have been abused by a medical professional, you can also speak to us. We will explain how you can support your family member to seek legal advice or, if appropriate, how you can get legal advice on their behalf.
Our abuse law team specialises in representing patients who have been assaulted and abused in healthcare settings. We have successfully brought claims against hospitals, NHS Trusts, private healthcare providers and GP surgeries for abuse committed by medical professionals. You may find it helpful to read about some of our work for survivors of abuse in healthcare settings:
  • We successfully represented two men who were sexually abused by a nurse at a sexual health clinic .
  • We obtained compensation for a young woman who was subjected to abuse by her mental health support worker;
  • We are currently representing a group of individuals who allege that they were sexually assaulted by a doctor in the course of a pre-employment medical examination. 

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