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 (CHRE) has said.
The regulation watchdog has published guidelines showing healthcare professionals how to set out clear sexual boundaries with their patients.
Commissioned by the Department of Health in response to a series of sexual boundary breaches by health staff, the guidelines are intended to help professionals manage inappropriate patient behaviour.
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."
Nursing and Midwifery Council Chief Executive Sarah Thewlis added: "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."
See also: What should you do if you suspect a GP in your practice is overstepping sexual boundaries with patients? MiP article by Jonathan Coe