Eight nurses are suing their employer for sexual harassment and sex discrimination because of a policy which allows trans women to use their women’s changing rooms.

The legal action began after 26 nurses wrote to County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust raising their concerns in March.

The nurses, who work at Darlington Memorial Hospital, must change in and out of their scrubs twice a day with no private cubicles.

They claim some international nurses wanted to sign the letter but were too worried about having their visas revoked and losing their jobs.

Bethany Hutchison, one of the claimants, says they have felt unsafe as a result of a male staff member who identifies as a woman and has not transitioned.

She said: “There’s been occasions where I’ve been in the changing room alone with this colleague who looks very masculine and that was a real shock because you feel you want to challenge them, you think, ‘Oh there’s a man in the changing room’ but you can’t because of the trust’s policy.”

Read more: Transgender people may be treated in own room if patients request single-space wards

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Nurses ‘need to be re-educated’

One of the nurses who has objected to the hospital’s policy is a woman who was the victim of sexual abuse and says the presence of this trans colleague in an enclosed space triggers her PTSD.

Another of the women, Lisa Lockey, told Sky News: “We’re just ordinary nurses. Is it too much to ask for a private changing room where you feel comfortable?”

Lisa says their ward manager was called into a meeting with HR and senior hospital bosses and told that the nurses needed to be “re-educated”.

The situation has escalated, with Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who has been highly vocal on trans issues, and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, posting in support of the nurses.

The Labour spokesperson said on X: “I support the nurses and I’m horrified that they’ve had to resort to legal action. We’ve got to find a better way through this and I’d be happy to meet them. We’ve got to find a way through that treats people with respect and respects women’s safe spaces”.

The nurses are being supported in their litigation by the Christian Legal Centre.

Ambiguity in the Equality Act 2010

Its chief executive Andrea Williams says: “This case and the Cass Review demonstrate how transgender ideology has led to a public health crisis, not only for vulnerable children and for patients on wards, but now also for NHS staff who are just trying to do their job.”

Under the Equality Act 2010 it is illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their sex. Some interpret sex as referring strictly to biological sex, while others believe it also applies to transgender people who have a gender recognition certificate.

The Conservatives have said they would amend the Equality Act so that it is clear, in this context, that it only applies to biological sex.

They hope this would prevent trans women from accessing single-sex spaces such as changing rooms. Keir Starmer says the Equality Act doesn’t need to change but says he’s committed to protecting single sex spaces.

Fear is hurting everyone

Balancing the rights of transgender people and women has been a heated topic throughout this election campaign but Cleo Madeline, head of public engagement at transgender charity Gendered Intelligence, says people need to be more accepting of trans people.

“Including transgender people isn’t hurting anyone, what’s hurting everyone is this fear that has been stirred up and that’s not just hurting transgender people it’s hurting everybody,” Cleo said.

A spokesperson for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust said: “The trust would like to emphasise that at this stage the claims being made are allegations which need to be fully investigated and reviewed.

“The trust has initiated this through its internal processes and this work continues. However, as the allegations are now also subject to active legal action, it would not be appropriate for the trust to comment further at this stage.”