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Role of religion in general practice

I was perturbed by the article about 'How far can we promote our religious beliefs in practice?' (March 24). I am a practising Christian and worship at a church in the town where I live.

Inevitably some of the congregation are patients of mine, but it is unusual for us to discuss spiritual matters in the consulting room. I believe it would be totally inappropriate to hold prayer meetings to which patients may be invited. I fully acknowledge how important spiritual well-being is in terms of being healthy but I earnestly believe it is not the role of the GP to advise about this.

I find it is particularly in the field of terminal care that people become aware of their spiritual needs and I have good rapport with the local priests, many of whom are patients of the practice. In this field I feel it is so important to concentrate on medical treatment as, if we venture into the spiritual sphere, which we are not trained to do, we risk jeopardising everything.

We have recently set up a 'priest surgery' run by two local priests on a monthly basis. Patients can refer themselves to the clergy without any prior discussion with their GP, although the patients so far seen have chosen to do so.

They have found great benefit from the consultation and one of them has stopped coming on an almost daily basis, with recurrent skin infections, to become an infrequent attendee. Surely a good example of healing.

Incidentally my partner is a practising muslim who believes the most important thing is that patients have an opportunity to improve their spiritual health, irrespective of the identity of the religion.

Dr Diana Lowry

Epping, Essex

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