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Male Nurses Fear Sexual Abuse Charge if They Touch Patients

Added on February 26, 2007

Sunday Tribune, 25 February 2007 by Sarah McInerney

MALE nurses in Ireland are often afraid to use physical touch when caring for female patients in case they are accused of sexual abuse.

According to a new study by Trinity College, male nurses, both general and psychiatric, are regularly apprehensive about touching female patients for fear of that touch being interpreted in the wrong way.

"Even though male nurses are fully qualified in the caring profession, often they do not carry out the same duties as female nurses because they feel they cannot, " said Brian Keogh, the author of the report and a lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at TCD.

"It's particularly difficult for men if they are required to carry out intimate caring duties such as washing, toiletry or anything that would require them to touch a female patient in intimate areas. A lot of male nurses will steer clear of that sort of work altogether, not because they are not trained or willing to do it, but because they are afraid they will be accused of touching the patient inappropriately."

Keogh said male nurses had developed coping strategies to help them deal with this barrier in their day-to-day work.

"Before they attempt any sort of intimate caring procedure, male nurses will normally insist they have a female nurse in the room with them acting as a 'chaperone', " he said. "Of course, the problem with this is that it perpetuates the notion to everyone that the man is likely to do something wrong."

Even with a chaperone in the room, male nurses are often still apprehensive. According to one respondent to the study, "it makes no difference to anything, because a touch can be interpreted in the wrong way.

So I would always have someone with mef and I'll be very careful of that because in this day and age you just have to watch yourself.

Another respondent found himself avoiding female patients altogether. "I steer clear of female patients because I am just very aware of allegations, " he said. "It's just something I am very uncomfortable of, to be left on my own with a female patient."

The same fears and strategies exist among male nurses in Britain, said Keogh, but the United States is different. "Even though they have much the same percentage of male to female nurses in the States, male nurses there would not accept a 'chaperone' in the room, " he said. "They insist that they are professional, fully trained carers and that they are just doing their job. Which is true."

The study found that psychiatric nurses were apprehensive about using any type of touch at all with female patients.

"Because they are dealing with mentally ill patients, psychiatric male nurses would be careful about even touching a female patient on the shoulder, " said Keogh. "A misinterpretation can happen so easily in this area."

One male psychiatric nurse who contributed to the study described a situation involving a young female patient who suffered from personality disorder and who would ask him for a hug before he went off duty. He described feelings of intimidation and being uncomfortable because the patient was female.

According to Keogh, the findings of this study suggest that there are obvious barriers for males who want a career in nursing.

"Even though there is a drive to attract more men into the profession, at the same time male nurses are not able to do their job fully, " he said. "At least, there needs to be further education in the undergraduate curriculum to teach male nurses how best to care for female patients. If we don't deal with this then male nurses will disengage from female patients and maybe even from the caring aspects of the job."

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