A dental nurse, who chooses not to reveal her identity, shares her shocking story

I am a dental nurse and I have been sexually harassed by a patient in front of my dentist. I am rather quiet by nature and, whilst I am polite and friendly to patients, I prefer not to engage in long conversations. I recall being warned, years ago, by other members of staff regarding this specific patient I was about to meet for the very first time, who apparently had a tendency to make ‘funny comments’. This made me anxious, as I had no clue how to respond if he chose to do so.

He started by flirting, which made me very uncomfortable, but the comments became worse as we saw him for more appointments. One of the first comments he made was: ‘We should have sex before it’s too late.’ I was shocked – I could not utter a word and I remember wanting the ground to open up and swallow me. I was extremely embarrassed, as this was said whilst my dentist was there. At another appointment, the same patient suggested that ‘we should have sex on this dental chair during your lunch break’. I was fuming and felt sick to my stomach, but my dentist did not say a word in my defence. I remember wondering why wasn’t I supported during these humiliating incidents and I wished he had told this horrible man to leave the practice and never come back. I verbally reported these incidents to the manager but, sadly, no action was taken.

A pattern

A few years later, he started the same pattern with our reception staff members and my colleague put in a written complaint to management. It was only then that there was a meeting regarding this patient’s abhorrent behaviour and my own experiences taken into consideration. It was unanimously decided by management and the practice owners there would be no tolerance of such behaviour towards the dental team. It was not my dentist who wrote to the patient, but another dentist, who made it very clear to the patient he would no longer be welcome at our dental practice because of his highly inappropriate and sexualised comments to our female staff members. I am relieved I never have to interact with this man again but it should not have taken years to bar him. I would suggest everyone should work on their self-confidence, so they can protect and defend themselves. All dental practices should have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy regarding third party sexual harassment. I encourage dental practice managers and owners to be more mindful of how they support staff and to prioritise our safety, dignity and mental health ahead of profits.

‘We are often verbally abused by patients’

Another anonymous dental nurse shares her experiences…

I have recently experienced three separate occasions of verbal abuse from patients. The first was when a mother of a patient called several times on his behalf to book him appointments. Her son had failed to attend two appointments, and late cancelled the one before that. I explained the cancellation policy to the mum and that we would be unable to offer him an NHS appointment. She then started shouting and the man grabbed the phone from her and also shouted abuse at me. A few days later, another patient threatened the receptionist simply because she had asked him if he would like a visor (free of charge) as he was exempt from wearing a mask and was coughing in the waiting area. I asked him to leave and he picked up two reception chairs and threw them across the room, just missing myself and another dental nurse. When threatened with the police, he left. On another occasion, we had a call from a new patient requesting an emergency appointment. I explained we didn’t have anything available but that we could put him on the waiting list. He insisted he wanted something that day and I again explained we were fully booked and gave him details for NHS 111. He then swore at me and hung up. Ten minutes later, he turned up at the front door (which we keep locked due to COVID-19). When the receptionist opened the door, I could hear shouting. She was trying to explain the procedure but he got all the more aggressive so she shut the door as she felt threatened. He them slammed his fist twice on the window so hard it shook.

On all three occasions, myself and the reception staff tried to calm the situation down, but we felt very threatened and were shocked at the responses. The practice owner was apologetic and other members of the team were very supportive. We do have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy but people’s behaviour has definitely worsened during lockdown.