Sonographers under attack - SoR calls for government action

Alarming rise in physical, verbal and public abuse over obstetric ultrasound scans

Published: 24 February 2021 Sonography

ultrasound.pngThe SoR is calling for urgent discussions with government and NHS employers to protect sonographer members from an alarming rise in physical, verbal and public abuse during the pandemic.

We are calling for a centralised recording and warning system to be established NHS-wide, whereby repeated harassment from patients or their partners, family and friends, can lead to exclusion, mirroring anti-harassment legislation.

Threats and aggression towards sonographers were rising before Covid-19. The important purpose of ante-natal scans is being lost in the rising popularity of gender-naming parties and the industry that has grown around this trend.

Demands to film ante-natal scans, anger and concerns about the quality of the photographs from an intricate medical examination have given rise to an increasing tension – especially where scans take place in cramped, badly ventilated rooms and poorergonomics.

The pandemic has amplified the tension, fuelled by pressure groups seeking to exploit additional Covid-19 restrictions to politicise their ‘human rights’ agenda.

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The SoR has always supported partners attending scans where it is safe for them to do – as long as this does not interfere with the procedure. In recent months, we have supported and advised numerous NHS trusts on appropriate risk assessments and adjustments to support partners attending scans.

Members are now reporting regular verbal abuse from partners who refuse to maintain social distancing and try to interfere with scans. In a recent example, an SoR member being threatened on Facebook with their photograph, name and workplace published by an angry partner. The post invited people to join in the trolling. Fortunately, in this case the member’s Trust was supportive and helped ensure Facebook removed the post.

SoR Director of Industrial Strategy & Member Relations Dean Rogers said: ‘The rise in these cases coming to us is genuinely alarming and has been fuelled by these groups. Earlier in the pandemic, they exaggerated the number of Trusts where partners were excluded on legitimate safety grounds – for the staff, themselves and ultimately the foetus – and have now ramped up their campaigning.

‘The complaints usually involve an aggressive male partner screaming and threatening the female sonographer in a confined space where they are the only member of staff. It feels like only a matter of time before a member is seriously injured.

‘It’s like the rights of staff to do their job properly and not be abused does not count against the so-called ‘human rights’ of a partner to get a high-resolution picture or film of their unborn child. The fact that this is a serious and important medical procedure is being lost and it has to be addressed as a priority.’

A sonographer’s experience:

‘I don't think other radiographers appreciate that social distancing cannot be achieved in ultrasound and that we are thigh-to-thigh with around 16 patients and their plus-ones every day, in a small unventilated room for around 20 minutes per scan.

‘We have had so much abuse, both face-to-face and on social media. People demanding to film the scan or facetime their family, while the important diagnostic element of the scan is largely ignored. I had a recent complaint, the basis of which was 'the sonographer was nice enough, chatty and explained the scan but there was no JOY in their voice when they announced the sex'. I've had sonographers called incompetent because the baby refused to show what sex it was.

‘I feel sick to my stomach being here now and have to sit in my car to get up the strength to walk into the building. To many of us, this is a vocation and it is only the kind and grateful patients who keep us going.’

Image Credit: Maksim Ozerov/Moment/via Getty Images