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CHRE publishes guidance on sexual boundaries

10 Jan 2008

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Healthcare professionals should take care not to stray into unacceptable sexual behaviour with patients and professional regulators should offer clear guidance and support, the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence said today.

CHRE, the health professions’ watchdog, has published a set of three documents on clear sexual boundaries between healthcare professionals and patients. The work was commissioned by the Department of Health in response to a series of inquiries into serious breaches of sexual boundaries by healthcare professionals. It was carried out in consultation with patient groups, professional bodies and health professions regulators including the General Medical Council.

Speaking about the documents, CHRE Chief Executive Harry Cayton, said:

“The relationship between a healthcare professional and a patient or carer depends on confidence and trust. A healthcare professional who displays any form of sexualised behaviour towards a patient breaches that trust, acts unprofessionally, and may, sometimes, be committing a criminal act.

“We hope that this common sense guidance will bring clarity to a difficult area, helping those who work in regulation and healthcare to prevent sexual boundary breaches by healthcare professionals.”

The guidelines will also protect healthcare professionals by helping them identify and manage inappropriate sexualised behaviour by patients so that professional boundaries can be maintained.

Nursing and Midwifery Council Chief Executive, Sarah Thewlis, said:

“Patients rightly place their trust in healthcare professionals and it is vitally important that such a position of trust is not abused, particularly in circumstances in which a patient is vulnerable. The outcome of the project supports the existing regulatory guidance and will help to minimise inappropriate sexual behaviour between healthcare professionals and patients.”

Three separate documents have been published; the responsibilities of health professionals; guidance for regulatory bodies’ fitness to practise panels; and guidance for higher education institutions and training providers. All three documents are available from

Harry Cayton continued:

“The first of our documents is guidance for regulators on the responsibilities of healthcare professionals. We will be asking the professional regulatory bodies to issue their own guidance, specific to their registrants, on the basis of the principles that we set out.

“The second document is guidance for regulatory bodies’ fitness to practise panels, on the special considerations they should bring to bear when hearing a case involving an alleged sexual boundary breach. We hope that the regulatory bodies will take this into account.

“We have also produced a report on education and training, which encourages higher education institutes and training providers to consider ways to ensure that student healthcare professionals receive effective training on clear sexual boundaries at every stage of their education.

“We will also be producing, in association with boundaries charity WITNESS , guidance for patients on the standards of conduct they should expect from healthcare professionals, and what to do when they think that sexual boundaries may have been breached.”

WITNESS Chief Executive, Jonathan Coe, said:

“These new guidelines help to raise awareness of the need for safe boundaries between professionals and the public. They stand as a tribute to people who have been damaged by unsafe health staff and will help to prevent abuses happening in the future.”


For media enquiries and further information contact:

Charlie Vavasour, DTW Vavasour, tel: 01233 614525

1. The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence oversees the nine regulators of healthcare professionals in the UK. Its primary purpose is to promote the health, safety and wellbeing of patients and other members of the public.
2. The nine regulators of healthcare professionals in the UK are: the General Chiropractic Council; the General Dental Council; the General Medical Council; the General Optical Council; the General Osteopathic Council; the Health Professions Council; the Nursing and Midwifery Council; the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland; and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
3. The three documents published today are:
Clear sexual boundaries between healthcare professionals and patients: responsibilities of healthcare professionals
Clear sexual boundaries between healthcare professionals and patients: guidance for fitness to practise panels
Learning about sexual boundaries between healthcare professionals and patients: a report on education and training

All three documents are available from

4. WITNESS can be contacted at 020 7922 7800/07957 162151/ Website Helpline 08454 500300

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