A GP has been referred to the GMC for asking a Muslim women to lift her veil during a consultation. The Doctors’ Association UK, who have obtained a copy of the fitness to practise referral, are now calling on the GMC to issue urgent guidelines to help protect both doctors and patients.
Currently, there is plentiful guidance for doctors and NHS staff who wear religious garments, and when patients can ask a treating clinician to remove them. However, no such guidance exists for the opposite situation.
Whilst DAUK have not commented on the specifics of this particular case, the committee remain concerned that this could make doctors, particularly those working in isolated environments, vulnerable to fitness to practise proceedings.
DAUK’s comments on the need for more guidance were published widely in the mainstream press, prompting an open dialogue with the GMC.
In the Evening Standard DAUK said: “It is of utmost importance that the religious wishes of our patients are respected. However, evidently there are some circumstances where removeal of a niqab or burka is necessary for medical assessment and treatment. The GMC should consider issuing clear guidelines to protect both doctors and our patients.”
Charlie Massey, the Chief Executive of General Medical Council, told DAUK:
‘Our guidance makes clear that we expect doctors to treat patients’ beliefs and choice of religious dress with respect. If having exhausted all possible alternative communication approaches a doctor believes they cannot provide safe care without seeing a woman’s face, they can sensitively explore whether she would be willing to remove her face covering. Should this cause her distress the doctor will need to continue with other channels of communication.
‘If a doctor follows this guidance and treats patients politely, honestly and with sensitivity, then they have nothing to fear from being referred to the GMC.
‘The full facts of this case have not been aired, nor should they be until the issue has been examined fully and fairly. Doctors and patients have a right to expect that we carry out investigations in an even-handed way, so we will not be commenting on the specifics of the case referred to us by Dr Wolverson’s employer.
‘Employers only refer cases to the GMC where the conduct or behaviour of a doctor raises a serious concern around future care of patients.’