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Hewitt accuses Muslim GPs of a betrayal of trust

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has provoked consternation by accusing Muslim GPs of betraying patient confidentiality. She claimed there was a particular issue with male GPs discussing female patients' conditions with members of their wider family without consent.

She said: 'I have had Muslim women give me chapter and verse on very distressing breaches of confidentiality by Muslim GPs.

Some women patients feel they cannot trust their own GP, who knows the patient's extended family.'Ms Hewitt's remarks, at a lecture to left-wing think-tank The Fabian Society in London last week, make her the latest minister to criticise aspects of Muslim culture following Jack Straw's remarks about veils.

She told Pulse that some women in 'close-knit' communities were missing out on care because they were too afraid to go to their GP.'If they go and talk to their GP about a very difficult situation concerning domestic violence or sexual health problems they fear he will share that with other members of the community,' she claimed.

The GMC and doctors' leaders expressed surprise at the allegation. They could not point to any cases and said Ms Hewitt should use the proper channels to report any GPs breaching confidentiality.Surrey GP Dr Khalid Wyne, chair of the Muslim Health Network, did not believe Muslim GPs were more likely to breach confidentiality than non-Muslims.

'If these breaches have happened it is very serious and should be taken up by the GMC. It should be reported whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, black or white.

'Some women do worry if a doctor knows their aunt or sister – but it does not mean that GPs do breach confidentiality.'

In the past year, 11 doctors have been referred to GMC fitness to practise hearings after claims of 'intentional disclosure' of patient information. But no figures are available on the doctors' cultural background, and the GMC could not comment on whether Muslim GPs were disproportionately involved.

GMC policy adviser Michael Keegan said: 'The GMC understands that some close-knit communities' patients may have specific concerns.'

Ms Hewitt's comments follow a recent report by the Muslim Women's Network that said some women felt unable to discuss sexuality and violence with their GP for fear the information would be 'passed on' to family members.

Dr Prasad Rao, chair of the British International Doctors Association, said Ms Hewitt should have raised the issue through the proper routes rather than 'giving sweeping statements'. He added: 'I don't understand what she was trying to achieve.'

Comments branded out of touch

'It surprises me that she would make such a statement in a conference. It's highly irresponsible. I do not expect any reasonable GP to discuss this and it is not a problem I have come across.'

Dr Prakash Chandra, LMC chair in Newham, which has many Muslim residents

'It's not something we've had any concerns raised about either from patients, PCTs or practices.'

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC negotiator and Leeds LMC secretary

Dr Vijoy Singh, Leicestershire and Rutland LMC chair, which covers Ms Hewitt's constituencyDr Vijoy Singh, Leicestershire and Rutland LMC chair, which covers Ms Hewitt's constituency singh

'If she's blaming the GPs for breaking confidentiality, she's out of touch. No GP would break confidentiality because they are liable to be sued.'

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