Discussing religion with patients is part of a holistic approach that works, says Dr Richard Scott, the GP at the centre of a row with the GMC
The current GMC case in which I am having to defend myself is based on whether I ‘overstepped the mark' in offering the gospel to a patient in a consultation last year. In so doing, I am accused of bringing the profession into disrepute and exploiting a vulnerable patient.
In our increasingly secular and politically correct society, in which political leaders (Blair, Brown, Cameron) have had their own struggles in being true to their avowed Christian faith at work, why should I and others risk reaching out spiritually to patients in our consulting room?
Because it works. In Margate, many patients present to our general practice with deep-seated and longstanding problems for which standard medical attention has availed little. Drug and alcohol addiction, childhood abuse, severe anxiety and depression, personality disorders and self-harm, linked to self-loathing, are rife. While medication and counselling can play their part, most doctors would agree that standard Western medicine only partially helps these miserable conditions, and the patients who suffer them become ‘heartsinks' – a derogatory term implying fault in the patient while instead often reflecting medical inadequacy as we don't have what they need.
What, then, can be done to help such needy customers? Coming late to general practice in 1988, and having joined a sound Christian practice with other Christian doctors and nurses, I have offered the Christian message, where relevant, in thousands of consultations. I have seen hundreds of patients helped and many lives changed – drug addicts no longer offending and costing the country through incarceration in prison, violent people calmed, those with anxiety and depression finding at least some peace and those whose faith helps them through chronic physical conditions. Only last month I attended the funeral of a patient dying young from cancer, who'd been delighted to discuss his faith with me in clinic. It sustained him and his family through a terrible time. Praying with patients can sometimes lead to dramatic results. Four infertile couples in our surgery have recently borne children following prayer.
Previously, people commonly sought out the local pastor for ethical and religious advice and prayer. Nowadays, many, particularly non-church goers, consult a GP. But you can only give what you've got.
A GP with a specialist interest in acupuncture might offer this service to a patient with tennis elbow or point to a chiropractor for someone with a chronic back condition, without fear of censure. But after trying medication, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and psychiatry for those with mental health conditions, or having sent substance abusers to the local addiction clinic, for most practitioners the armoury rapidly becomes bare. This is where God, through Jesus, can come in.
Most studies looking at the impact of faith, particularly Christian faith, on medical conditions have shown hugely positive results; increased longevity, better responses to cancer treatment, increased marital wellbeing and happiness in general, better recovery from surgery, reduced anxiety – the list goes on. Thus introducing faith into a consultation is increasingly evidence-based medicine.
This is no accident or coincidence, as health and wellbeing is in line with God's promises for His people in scripture. Jesus said: ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly' (John 10:10).
I am very greedy for my patients. I want them not just to do well, but to do really well in life. Whole-person medicine involves the spiritual, not just the mental and physical aspects of life. It is on this basis that I have no hesitation in offering the gospel to needy patients where appropriate. The results speak for themselves.
Dr Richard Scott is a GP in Margate, KentDr Richard Scott