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Health ministry: No sexual harassment policy

Published:Sunday | February 24, 2019 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer

There is no sexual harassment policy governing Jamaica’s public-health institutions, including at the Caribbean’s premier teaching hospital and at the Ministry of Health, despite that sector employing thousands of workers performing medical and administrative functions.

The revelation came last week during the quarterly Grand Rounds seminar titled ‘Sexual Harassment in the Medical Workplace’, held at the Archie McDonald Lecture Theatre at The University Hospital of The West Indies (UHWI) during an open discussion.

Dr Peter Glegg, legal adviser at UHWI, said the hospital was formulating a policy that will be ready within weeks.

“To the best of my knowledge, since I have been here, there have been no reports of sexual harassment. But if and when any report comes to my desk or through the Human Resources Department, it is not something that will be taken lightly,” he said during an interview following the discussion.

The hospital’s administration, he said, was aware of the Sexual Harassment Bill that had been drafted.

“So UHWI, from the level of the board, has taken a serious stance against sexual harassment in the workplace. We have a draft policy in progress, but also more than just a policy, we want to change the culture in the hospital,” Glegg explained.

Formal training programmes for staff are currently under way, as the “hospital has taken a very strict and strong position on the issue. This will not be tolerated at all, in the hospital,” Glegg reassured.

The UHWI developed its policy on its own following consultations with various groups.

“We intend to take the lead role in formulating a sexual harassment policy among hospitals. Even our policy will be guided by the legislation and we are actually moving to promulgate this statement throughout the institution,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Culture change

Glegg said health workers were not immune to the sexual culture of the society and the hospital wanted to take the lead in “changing the health workplace culture”.

“We would like to create a culture in the hospital of individuals being cognisant, being educated and being knowledgeable about the issue of sexual harassment. The fact is, if individuals do not know what it is, you may not know how to act properly,” Glegg explained. “Ignorance cannot be used as a defence. So what we want is for every member of staff to be aware of it, and be aware of the training.”

Senior medical officer at Kingston Public Hospital, Dr Natalie Whylie, said the Type A facility’s human-resource policy addresses sexual harassment.

“The Ministry of Finance and the Public Service also has a new disciplinary policy that speaks to disciplinary matters, including sexual harassment in the workplace. Our policies are guided by the Ministry of Health, and then the Regional Health Authority also has various procedural and policy manuals dealing with the issue.”

But Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said there was no overarching document outlawing sexual harassment at the ministry, its departments, and agencies.

“There is no policy, but I was told by the human resources people that at the level of the ministry, there is not a lot of complaints,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Meanwhile, consultant in emergency medicine at UHWI, Dr Romayne Edwards, said the matter was chosen because health professionals needed to educate themselves.

“It is very important that they know what it is, and safeguard themselves against any allegations,” she said.

It was unclear whether private institutions had a sexual harassment policy.