Monday, 23 May 2011

Doctor who recommended Jesus to patient to fight disciplinary proceedings with backing of Christian Legal Centre

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The Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate
Two months on from their defeat at the High Court in the case of Derby City Council's wish to turn down a Pentecostal Christian Couple as foster carers on account of their views on homosexuality, the Christian Legal Centre appear to have found a new cause célèbre in Dr Richard Scott, a Margate GP who is facing disciplinary action after recommending faith in Jesus during a consultation with a patient last year.

The patient, a 24-year-old man described as "in a rut and in need of help" in the Daily Mail's report (these are presumably the words of Scott, although it's not clear), apparently told his mother "He just said I need Jesus" after she asked him how the consultation had gone, and it was her complaint which left Scott facing an official warning from the General Medical Council.

The Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, where Scott is based, has six Christian partners who state on an NHS website that "faith guides the way in which they view their work and responsibilities to the patients". Speaking to the press, Scott has defended his decision to discuss religion with the patient:
"I only discussed my faith at the end of a lengthy medical consultation after exploring the various interventions that the patient had previously tried, and after promising to follow up the patient's request appointment with other medical professionals.
I only discussed mutual faith after obtaining the patient's permission. In our conversation, I said that personally, I had found having faith in Jesus helped me and could help the patient. At no time did the patient indicate that they were offended, or that they wanted to stop the discussion. If that had been the case, I would have immediately ended the conversation."
Scott now plans to appeal against censure by the GMC, and his rationale for doing so reflects that of the Christian Legal Centre, which has used a steady string of cases to make its argument about the perceived marginalisation of Christian views in public life:
"By appealing against the decision, it will go to a public hearing where the GMC may warn me or decide to take matters further. But it is worth the risk as I wanted to do this because there is a bigger picture.
I wanted to give confidence and inspiration to other Christians who work in the medical profession."
For its part, the GMC has pointed out that Scott breached its guidlines, with Chief Executive Niall Dickons saying:
"Doctors should not normally discuss their personal beliefs with patients unless those beliefs are directly relevant to the patient's care."
What do you make of this latest case? Should doctors be able to discuss faith with patients, or does doing so represent an abuse of their position? Share your views in the comments.

Update: As a commenter points out below, the description of the Bethesda Medical Centre on the NHS website is rather extraordinary (bold emphasis added):

Bethesda was a place in Bible where Christ healed a lame man and means literally 'house of mercy'
The 6 Partners are all practising Christians from a variety of Churches and their faith guides the way in which they view their work and responsibilities to the patients and employees. The Partners feel that the offer of talking to you on spiritual matters is of great benefit. If you do not wish this, that is your right and will not affect your medical care. Please tell the doctor (or drop a note to the Practice Manager) if you do not wish to speak on matters of faith.
So it seems faith is something patients must opt out of at that surgery.
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