Appropriate Medical Care?

This from Christian Concern.

A Christian doctor of 28 years standing has been reported to the General Medical Council (GMC), and may be disciplined for sharing his faith with a patient.

Dr Richard Scott, who works at Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, Kent – a practice well-known for having Christian partners – has been threatened with an Official Warning by the GMC and is currently under investigation.

In 2010, Dr Scott saw a patient on the practice list at the request of the patient’s mother.  At the end of the consultation, the patient and doctor discussed religion, each being of different faiths.  The patient has continued to seek treatment from the practice, but his mother filed an official complaint, claiming that the GP had not offered medical advice during a consultation, but instead, talked about Jesus!

The GMC has written to Dr Scott offering a ‘compromise’ decision to the disciplinary complaint of placing an Official Warning on his file.  However, the GP is calling on his professional body to strike-out the complaint on the basis that the complaint was from a mother who was not medically qualified to comment on what treatment, if any, a medical practitioner should prescribe and, the GMC’s own guidelines state that it is acceptable to present faith to a patient as long as it is done gently and sensitively.

Dr Scott, who has an unblemished record as a medic, says it is totally unacceptable for his professional reputation and official file to contain a rebuke for acting both professionally, and within the guidelines. He claims the complaint has been made knowing that professional bodies are nervous about claims of a religious nature, and therefore it is a way of getting back at the GP.

Dr Scott said: “I only discussed my faith at the end of a lengthy medical consultation after exploring the various interventions that the patient had previously tried, and after promising to follow up the patient’s request appointment with other medical professionals.

“I only discussed mutual faith after obtaining the patient’s permission. In our conversation, I said that personally, I had found having faith in Jesus helped me and could help the patient. At no time did the patient indicate that they were offended, or that they wanted to stop the discussion. If that had been the case, I would have immediately ended the conversation.

“This complaint was brought to the GMC not by the patient, who has continued to be a patient at this practice, but by the patient’s mother.”

The medical practice at which Dr Scott works is well known in the community for having Christian partners and is named after a Biblical name.   Dr Scott says he has talked about his faith with many patients over the years, and many of them have been encouraged.  Dr Scott, who for seven years has been a worshipper at St Paul’s Church, Cliftonville (CofE), is so determined to clear his professional name that he has instructed the Christian Legal Centre to advise him in his case.  They, in turn, are using the leading human rights lawyer, Paul Diamond as lead counsel.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “It is a shame that Dr Scott has been reported to the GMC because of his Christian views.  Dr Scott is an experienced GP who has helped thousands of patients over the years.

“The complaint, on religious grounds, appears to be a smokescreen to express frustration  and to disagree publicly with the professional treatment offered.  However, the GMC must not bow to political or emotional pressure in this case and should back the GP 100 per-cent, as he acted within their own guidelines, and his unblemished record should not be tarnished – even by a letter on his file.”

“Many patients are helped when a Doctor, in the natural course of a discussion, talks about their spiritual needs. This is all Dr Scott was doing and he should not be punished for this or prevented from doing so in the future.”

This is exactly the kind of case the CLC should be fighting. If GPs are allowed to suggest and even prescribe Reiki, Aromatherapy, Homeopathy or Reflexology, why not trusting Jesus with your life? This attempt to discipline Dr Scott is blatant religious discrimination.

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5 Comments on “Appropriate Medical Care?

  1. 1) Perhaps GPs *shouldn't* be allowed to suggest Reiki et all, and 2 wrongs don't make a right?

    2) Are Reiki etc religions? No, so the analogy you offer doesn't work.

    3) Can you imagine the Daily Mail tabloid et all response if a Muslim GP suggested trying Islam? ("Al-Queda Quacks: Patients Told to Try Allah" etc). Christian Concern et all might all wish that Christianity has special privileges in all spheres under UK law but wishing doesn't make it so.

    You could argue, possibly legitimately, that a GP volunteering to discuss their faith – whatever that faith – is itself problematic.

  2. Peter I totally agree. It is important for religious freedom that this case is taken on and won, for a number of reasons:

    1) People should have the right to talk about their faith in any context until people tell them they don't want to hear. That is the definition of free speech! Of course, if they continue after having been told to stop it becomes a different matter.

    2) But this doctor appears to have followed the GMC guidelines to the letter. It is on the website that they are a Christian medical practice and they are likely to raise spiritual matters. He talks about his faith but only until he is asked to top. No problem!

    3) On top of all this, the idea that a doctor can exclude any talk about spirituality is ludicrous, in the light of the many research findings that spiritual exercises of many types, including prayer, can improve physical and mental health. Of course, again if the patient doesn't want to hear about such things and the doctor proceeds after being asked to stop, it's a different matter.

    One of the basic problems of a rights-based discourse is that it relies upon and assumes that people are 'reasonable'. Many are and some aren't – which makes it inevitable that these type of conflicts over perceived 'offense' get raised when, in almost all cases, they could be sorted out by the relevant authorities with a bit of wisdom and a few sharp words to the 'headbangers' of all types!

    • Hi Philip,

      I think if he hopes to win he might have got himself represented by someone other than the CLC or Christian Concern – or he's on a loser from the get-go. My GP is also a Christian – he runs a medical mission in West Africa. He has told me about it and gave me the website but did not do any intrusive proselytising. I wouldn't expect him to, but should he do so I think I could deal with it without reporting him to the GMC. It sounds as if in this case the mother thought her child was vulnerable in some way. That will probably come out in the hearing. But on the whole I rather agree with Ryan that we don't want doctors offering to cast spells or psychiatrists offering to cast out demons. Obviously there is a fine line between alternative medicine good and alternative medicine bad. Even then the question remains is spiritual advice of any kind within the remit of the doctor-patient relationship. Perhaps it's a debate that ought to be had but not in the courtroom. I would be very unhappy if we allowed people providing medical care in any way were allowed to take their client's "spiritual" status into account. There was a recent case in the States where a pharmacist took it upon herself to refuse to dispense a drug to stop uterine bleeding till she was satisfied that Planned Parenthood had prescribed it for a "normal" heavy period and not for post abortion treatment. In this country she would still be sacked! Whatever the cause, the woman was bleeding! Would she refuse bandages to a suicide who had just slashed her wrists?

    • Philip,

      1) Free speech does not mean (c.f. famous "yelling 'Fire' in a movie theatre' example!) that all forms of speech are appropriate in all contexts, especially professional ones. What would you think of a lawyer discussing personal religion in court to curry favour with a judge they know to be of a particular faith? (Not an exact analogy to this case of course – but it does negate your seeming understanding that 'free speech' covers all sins)

      2) The fact that it is on the website in no way means that all patients expect a service that is as much about proselytising as it is the expected doctor/patient relationship. People attending a self-described "Jewish" or "Islamic" dentist/doctors might expect them to be founded or owe something to the values of said faiths, which is not the same thing as expecting to be proselytised. And that's aside from the fact that people talk about their "excellent Jewish dentist" and the like without implying that religion is a feature of their interactions with them.

      3) "If you talk to God you are praying, if God talks to you, you have Schizophrenia" ;). "Research findings" is vague; are we talking genuine peer-reviewed science and, if so, the variety that is necessarily relevant to medicine? Psychiatrists can legitimately deal with religious issues (V62.89 Religious or Spiritual Problem is the DSM-IV TR coding)but preoccupation with spiritual/religious matters is far more likely to be indicative of mental ill health (a ward full of Schizophrenics will have a lot of people who consider themselves to be God's messenger). And if someone's problems are considered serious enough to warrant psychiatric treatment then they obviously are more serious than the sort of thing that can be dealt with by religious pastors via informal councilling. In that context, telling someone with mental health problems to "try prayer" is unprofessional at best. Like most regular Orthodox Christians, I have no time for the snake-oil salesmen of the Charismatic movement. I'm sure that you yourself can think of some varieties of spiritual experience that you consider harmful (psychics, ouiji boards etc?). Given the spectrum of opinion on the subject, is it not far, far more sensible to say that discussing faith and spiritual matters is inappropriate in a doctor's office, instead of trying to create special loopholes for those who unprofessionally proseltyise for your particular faith?

  3. It looks from the report as though the family in question are not Christian. If they actually identify as some other faith – and I don't know for sure if they do or not – then I would suggest that what the doctor in question did was really pretty silly, even if it wasn't against the BMA rules.

    The Church Mouse http://churchmousepublishing.blogspot.com/2011/05… is pretty good on this – especially in his point that the legal issue is compliance with the rules, not the doctor's faith.

    As to alternative therapies – I trust my osteopath to deal with aches, pains and strains much more than I trust my doctor. The former looks at the mechanics of what's wrong and tries to fix it. The latter gives me pills…

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