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The GMC’s politically correct faith ban is not in patients’ best interests

Dr Richard Scott, warned by the GMC for discussing Christianity with a patient, argues the regulator’s latest guidance ignores the evidence

Following its 1993 document on personal beliefs, the GMC has produced various new guidance over the years on sharing personal and religious beliefs. This guidance has been deliberately aimed at restricting the ability of doctors to discuss faith with their patients.

Back in 1993, doctors were able to discuss faith freely, as long as it was done in a gentle and sensitive manner. But in the GMC’s 2008 guidance, we were warned not to introduce the subject of faith unless it was deemed directly relevant to the patient’s care.

Now the GMC’s revised draft of Good Medical Practice, due to be published next month, states we may not do so unless explicitly invited to do so by the patient, meaning when the patient directly requests a faith discussion or indicates in advance his or her willingness to approach the problem from a spiritual angle. These developments are worrying on several counts.

Firstly, over the past decade, there has been an explosion of evidence that confirms conclusively that faith is of enormous benefit to patients’ health. All conditions studied thus far – whether the incidence of heart disease, recovery from surgery or response to cancer treatment – show that faith leads to better outcomes for the patient.

In my GMC case recently, I read out some of the statistics concerning mental health outcomes in relation to faith to the GMC, but the findings were essentially ignored by the panel.

A secular agenda

The GMC purports to act in the best interest of patients, yet by ignoring the evidence concerning faith and tightening its guidelines, it is acting in direct opposition to what has been proved beneficial for patients. In doing so, the regulator reveals not only a foolish disregard for the facts but its own motives.

It clearly has a secular agenda that overrides any possible benefit to patients from the Christian faith, a matter that should be of grave concern to all of its thousands of members. Essentially, political correctness is once again at the fore, with disregard for inconvenient facts.  

When I take my car to a mechanic, I trust his opinion and do not expect him to act based solely on my suggestions. If he feels something is amiss with the carburettor but I direct him to the battery, how can I expect the car to improve?

In the same way, if a doctor with considerable experience in treating the spiritual health of patients feels this is an appropriate way for a consultation to proceed, but is unable to act unless a patient initiates this line of discussion, not only is the doctor hampered in his efforts but the patient is denied access to a proven benefit. All through the unhelpful intervention of the GMC.

Furthermore, if a doctor does take courage and introduce a spiritual angle, any problem arising will risk him being sanctioned by his professional body for introducing an approach without the patient’s express and prior request for him to do so.

I have previously had doctors contact me who have wished to introduce a spiritual approach but who have been too scared to do so. This new guidance will only deter them further. The GMC has acted against the evidence – and against patients’ best interests.

Dr Richard Scott is a GP in Margate, Kent

Readers' comments (6)

  • Tom Caldwell

    “During a consultation with a patient in August 2010 you expressed your religious beliefs in a way that distressed your patient.

    You subsequently confirmed, via National media, that you had sought to suggest your own faith had more to offer than that of the patient.

    In this way you sought to impose your own beliefs on your patient. You thereby caused the patient distress through insensitive expression of your religious beliefs."

    These form part of the findings of your regulatory body.

    Perhaps your considerable experience in treating the spiritual health of patients needs your more careful assessment.

    It appears that after a period where you could have reflected on the outcome of your GMC hearing you have decided that their assessment and guidance is incorrect. You also assert that the GMC is acting against patients' best interests.

    I wonder why you feel that you have more to offer than the GMC guidance?

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  • By saying the GMC "clearly has a secular agenda" you show no understanding of the word secular
    Medicine is not aligned with any one religion and never should be. The beliefs of the patients should offer no advantage or disadvantage in the way they are treated.

    You quote evidence but do not reference it. I would be very surprised if this evidence is in any way significant. Does it compare different faiths for example? Is it randomised and all confounding factors minimised. I know it doesnt say forcing a christian faith on non christians is helpful. If you really want to use it as guidance then I hope for the benefit of the non christian patient you enter into your spiritual healing using their faith rather than your own.
    Oh and your car analogy is terrible. You seem to be saying that the patient thinks it's one part of their body and you disagree saying it's their faith. No wonder you fell foul of the GMC and most likely will again.

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  • Dr.Scott you are absolutely spot on. The problem is simply that there is an intense hatred of religion these days masked by so called 'secularism' You were brave to argue your points so openly but be careful of those who are against your faith. They really cant stand the inconvenient facts which you cite.

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  • If I take my car to the mechanic and he starts tinkering around with my laptop which is on the backseat, I would be understandably miffed....because it's MY laptop and nothing to do with the mechanic. Religion is personal and has absolutely NO place in the consulting room. What if my religion was Satanism - how would you feel about me bringing that up with your patients?

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  • very peculiar line of reasoning cited in some of these responses. Apparently religion is personal so we shouldnt ask anything about it? Maybe we shouldnt ask people anything about their relationships either because thats personal too isnt it? maybe religion is part of the ICE which we are all so obsessed about these days but an inconvenient part of it so we exclude that because it's 'personal' There are different forms of Satanism so please define what type you are referring to? What point are you trying to make there?

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  • Doctors are entitled to tell patients when we feel they are making a wrong choice in lifestyle and it is a worse wrong to prevent us from being able to do this. Any Judeo-Christian and probably Muslim ethicist would say that if you see your brother is going to fall into a pit you should warn him.

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