The South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) has pledged to tackle a culture of "bottom smacking" and "sex for sign-offs", which it acknowledges as endemic in its ranks, particularly affecting student paramedics.

An NHS’ report in February found a culture of sexual assault and misogyny existed across NHS ambulance services. And the NHS Sexual Safety Charter, adopted in December 2023, aims to eradicate such misconduct by July 2024, with 10 pledges promoting transparency and support.

A student paramedic working within SECAmb said she was left “shocked and violated” after her male colleague touched her inappropriately on multiple occasions, as reported in an exclusive by The Independent. The male colleague was suspended in 2022 and struck off in 2023 following another allegation of sexually inappropriate behaviour.

Speaking at a SECAmb board meeting, Margaret Dalziel, leading the charter, noted the vulnerability of the student cohort to harassment. She said: “We know from many examples the student cohort is a quiet cohort that suffers as it comes into the whole ambulance sector, not just SECAmb.”

Updating the board, she said there is now an “incredibly low tolerance to any level of banter or harassment we know of”, increasing suspensions related to different sexualised behaviour such as “smacking someone’s bottom as they walked past” and terms like “sex for sign-offs” – students being pressured into sexual acts in exchange for passing assignments.

But she added “resetting the moral compass as to what is acceptable and what isn’t,” was the major cultural challenge to the service.