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