A Christian GP who asked a troubled patient if he had considered faith in Jesus ‘crossed the line’ in discussing his own religious beliefs, the GMC heard today.
Dr Richard Scott, a GP in Margate, Kent, appeared before a GMC Investigation Committee in Manchester today after a complaint from a 24-year-old patient who he spoke to about religion at the end of a consultation in his surgery in August 2010.
After allegedly being told ‘Go for it’ by the patient, Dr Scott is said to have told him faith in Christianity might help him overcome personal problems.
Dr Scott’s case has created intense media interest and prompted heated debate within the profession on the role of religion in general practice.
Under GMC rules, doctors are not allowed to impose personal or religious beliefs on patients and, if such issues are raised, it must be done in a `sensitive and appropriate’ manner, the hearing was told.
Patient A, whose identity has not been made public, has decided not to attend the hearing. His own religious affiliation has not been made public.
Paul Ozin, counsel for the GMC, said: `Dr Scott said to patient A about the “additional help which he might derive from Jesus”.’
Mr Ozin told the committee of an interview Dr Scott gave to BBC Radio 5 Live with Nicky Campbell on May 24 this year, where Mr Campbell asked Dr Scott if he was‘trying to convince [the patient] that your faith may be better…’.
Dr Scott replied: ‘Yeah, my actual words were “You might find Christianity offers you something more than your current faith does in this situation”.’
Mr Campbell then said: ‘What is it that Jesus could have offered him more than his own faith?’
Dr Scott replied: ‘He had an awful lot of problems, and the thing to know, that God loves us and Jesus loves us and you can deal with stuff in the past, in terms of hurt or guilt or fear of failure, stuff you can only really find through Christianity.’
‘I do offer it (faith) in situations like this.’
Patient A did not take up the offer, Mr Ozin said.
He continued: ‘It is a matter of record that Patient A subsequently complained about Dr Scott and said he was very upset about the consultation and he was offended by what he saw as the belittling of his own religion.’
‘On these facts alone Dr Scott failed to comply with the relevant GMC guidance, designed to strike the right balance between doctor and patient in this difficult and sensitive area.’
‘A line was crossed because Dr Scott expressed his personal religious belief to a person who he knew was a vulnerable patient in a way that was plainly liable to cause the patient distress. ‘
‘He suggested Jesus or Christianity – his own religion – offered something exclusive and superior to that offered by the patient’s own religion.’
The hearing in Manchester was told that the consultation in August 2010 came about because Dr Scott had a conversation with Patient A’s mother in which she said her son was saying he was suicidal, and he was a patient with a ‘profile with vulnerable characteristics’ and had ‘lifestyle issues’ which frustrated his mother.
Paul Diamond, counsel for Dr Scott, said the GP did not accept that the young man was a vulnerable patient.
Mr Diamond added: ‘The portrayal of events by my learned friend of insensitive and belittling and persistent discussion of religion are not accepted.’
‘Towards the end of that consultation, for a matter of minutes, Dr Scott made his professional judgment that matters of religious faith were appropriate to talk about in the context of this young man.’
‘Issues of religion were discussed. I don’t think there is any dispute that it is permissible within the guidance provided by the GMC. The only question is “Was it appropriate and sensitive?” That is the nub of the dispute.’
Mr Diamond said it was the Dr Scott’s case that he was professional at all times, followed an `evidentially based assessment and offered a sensible suggestion.
Mr Diamond said there were a lot of questions about this case – the patient’s mother first made a complaint weeks after the consultation and the complaint from the patient came three months later.
The GMC Investigation Committee in this case has no power to put any restriction on Dr Scott’s practice of medicine but could issue a warning. And speaking to Pulse ahead of the case, Dr Scott warned he could also face referral to a fitness to practise panel.
Dr Scott has yet to give evidence.