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Tufton gives deadline for review of sexual harassment protocols

Jamaica Observer 2019-08-28 11:41:24

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has given a September 30 deadline for a review of the protocols existing for reporting cases of sexual harassment in the health sector.

He was speaking at his ministry's quarterly press conference yesterday, following a front-page story by the Jamaica Observer on August 12 which reported the plight of junior doctors who have accused their seniors of sexual harassment.

The junior doctors told the Observer, on condition of anonymity, that they have either experienced sexual harassment or know a colleague who has been sexually harassed or assaulted. They also alleged victimisation at the hands of senior doctors who, they said, are keen on maintaining a culture of abuse.

“I have asked the chairman of SERHA (South East Regional Health Authority) Mr Wentworth Charles, who is actually a member of the medical council and an attorney by profession, to look at the protocols that currently entails as it relates to these breaches and to determine, through a process of consultation if necessary, whether or not anything can be done to strengthen those protocols,” the minister told journalists at the ministry's Grenada Way office in New Kingston.

He said this will serve to encourage people to report sexual harassment, an issue doctors have said is rife at public health facilities.

“So he is to report to me by the end of September on what his recommendations are,” Tufton disclosed.

Equally, the minister said that he has asked for “a greater sensitisation of the process” to address issues that may be related to confidentiality and the potential for victimisation.

He said while there had only been three reported cases of sexual harassment in 2018, he takes the concerns of the bodies, such as the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association, that represent doctors, seriously and has asked for further investigation.

“So, suffice to say, the chief medical officer [Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie] has been asked to interface with the respective groups to ventilate more the concerns that have been raised. Because, as I said, if we are to go on the statistics of reporting, on the face of it, it would not suggest that it is as big a problem as was headlined in one of the daily print, but we do take that kind of accusation sufficiently serious and to investigate and elaborate and to do something about it,” the minister said.

In the August 12 story, a female doctor said that it is well known in the medical community that senior doctors prey on their juniors.

The doctor also alleged that sexual harassment is “rampant” in the medical community although doctors have, for years, remained silent.

The doctor added, too, that her colleagues are discouraged from making reports because their careers may be “hindered”.

She said several consultants use their power to stymie efforts by their subordinates to bring awareness to the matter, which could have exposed hospitals and the lack of policies in place to protect junior doctors.

Her male colleague also alleged systemic abuse, arguing that consultants offer constant verbal abuse and little respect.

He explained that a “spat” with a consultant could jeopardise years of hard work, not to mention having future cases of any complaints ignored.

“There are a lot of people — I can tell from personal experience in knowing them — who did very well or have done very well and they don't pass because they previously had a spat with the consultant. There is definitely victimisation, especially with people who report things like sexual harassment. They get punished towards the end. I can tell you that sexual harassment supersedes every other issue we have,” he said.