GP’s religious advice sparks controversy

A Family Physician is facing disciplinary hearing for suggesting a patient could find solace in Jesus. Dr. Richard Scott, 50 said yesterday that it was worth the risk if he could ‘make a stand’ for his faith. He was placed under official investigation for talking to a patient about Jesus.

Scott – a Cambridge-educated GP used to be a medical missionary and surgeon in Tanzania and India and has refused to accept a formal warning from the General Medical Council, which said he risked bringing his profession into disrepute by discussing Christianity. He is preparing to appeal against the censure – even though he has been warned this could result in him being struck off. He said there are no guidelines that were breached as religion was mentioned only during a ‘consensual discussion between two adults’ after he had carried out a thorough and lengthy consultation with a patient last year at his Christian-orientated practice in Margate, Kent. He is fighting to have the formal warning removed from his unblemished record – maintaining that he acted professionally and within the medical regulator’s guidelines.

The complaint was brought by the mother of the 24-year-old patient, a man who was described as ‘in a rut and in need of help’. Dr Scott told him that faith in Jesus could give comfort and strength. She complained that Dr Scott had ‘pushed religion’ on her son, who nevertheless continued to receive treatment from the practice.

Dr Scott, a lay preacher, said, “The GMC decided to take the complaint seriously, which I feel is an injustice…They said that by speaking about my faith I had abused my position and potentially exploited vulnerable patients…The patient didn’t indicate that they were offended or wanted to stop the discussion. If that had been the case, I would have immediately ended the conversation.”

It states on the official NHS Choices website that spiritual matters are likely to be discussed with patients during consultations. Dr Scott added, “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.”

Andrea Williams, founder and director of the Christian Legal Centre, which is handling his case, said Dr Scott had acted within the GMC’s  guidelines and his unblemished record should not be tarnished. Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute said, “Are we really getting to a position where Christians are not allowed to speak about their faith at all in the workplace? Dr Scott had a rigorous policy of not pressing the point if people didn’t want to hear his views and it sounds like he was very respectful. I think the GMC should be glad to have people like that rather than disciplining and putting them under pressure to keep their faith quiet.”

But Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, made it clear when he said, “Our guidance is clear. Doctors should not normally discuss their personal beliefs with patients unless those beliefs are directly relevant to the patient’s care. They also must not impose their beliefs on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of religious, political or other beliefs or views.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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