Secularists target Christian doctor for consensual prayer with patients24 June 2019 Issued by: Christian Legal Centre
A Christian doctor is being investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC) after the National Secular Society (NSS) registered “concern” that the GP was “continuing to pray and promote Christianity during consultations in an attempt to convert patients.”
On June 7, the GMC wrote to Dr Richard Scott claiming that it had received “some information” from the NSS and would begin a fitness to practice investigation.
The GMC, which acts as the independent regulator for doctors in the UK, did not state that there was a complaint against Dr Scott.
Rather, it said it had “identified some areas of good medical practice that have been called into question” and needed to “find out more information to see if this is correct and, if so, whether your fitness to practise medicine is potentially impaired.”
However, speaking to The Sunday Times, Dr Scott ensured that he offers prayer in some patient consultations as part of a holistic approach, ensuring that all appropriate medical interventions are considered.
NSS letter raises “concerns”
The GMC said it was acting on the basis of a letter from the NSS, which claimed that an individual had contacted the NSS because her “highly vulnerable” acquaintance is being treated at Dr Scott’s practice.
The NSS letter, dated 24 May, did not identify the individual being treated at Dr Scott’s practice or her acquaintance.
According to the letter, the individual who approached the NSS also stated that the person receiving treatment at Dr Scott’s practice “does not feel able to express discomfort at the use of prayer.” She added: “It is not possible for this patient to raise the matter formally at this time, or to change GP practice.
The NSS letter cited a BBC Radio 4 interview entitled The Battles That Won Our Freedoms: 3 Freedom of Religion, claiming that Dr Scott was ignoring GMC guidelines “that preaching to patients is in direct conflict with paragraph 19 of the GMC’s supplementary guidance: Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice and paragraph 33 of Good Medical Practice.”
It also said that Dr Scott had been issued a formal warning by the GMC in 2012, “for expressing his religious beliefs in a way that distressed a ‘psychologically troubled’ patient who visited the surgery for a consultation.”
On June 10, NHS England also wrote to Dr Scott stating that it has received a “complaint” from the GMC and would be investigating the matter independently at a meeting of the Performance Advisory Group (PAG) on July 18.
Responding to the GMC and NHS England, Dr Scott expressed “astonishment” that “they should deem personal views expressed in a radio interview as sufficient to initiate a fitness to practise investigation” and “possible sanction.”
Dr Scott pointed out that the investigation conducted against him in 2012 was “highly irregular” and none of his patients had complained.
“The one patient quoted by the NSS stands in stark contrast to the great majority of the 19,000 patients” served by the Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, he added.
GMC guidelines recognise doctors’ personal beliefs
Citing the guidance Good Medical Practice (paragraph 15a), Dr Scott pointed out that GMC’s own guidelines recommended that medical histories should take account of “spiritual, social and cultural factors.”
The GMC’s guidelines on Personal beliefs and medical practice recognises that “personal beliefs and cultural practices are central to the lives of doctors and patients, and that all doctors have personal values that affect their day-to-day practice.”
It adds: “We don’t wish to prevent doctors from practising in line with their beliefs and values, as long as they also follow the guidance in Good medical practice. Neither do we wish to prevent patients from receiving care that is consistent with, or meets the requirements of, their beliefs and values.”
The guidelines permit doctors to “practise medicine in accordance with their beliefs, provided they act in accordance with relevant legislation and: do not treat patients unfairly, do not deny patients access to appropriate medical treatment or services, do not cause patients distress.”
Moreover, it emphasises that doctors “must take into account” the “cultural, religious or other beliefs and values” of their patients.
“It may therefore be appropriate to ask a patient about their personal beliefs. However, you must not put pressure on a patient to discuss or justify their beliefs, or the absence of them,” the guidelines specify.
“You may talk about your own personal beliefs only if a patient asks you directly about them, or indicates they would welcome such a discussion. You must not impose your beliefs and values on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of them,” it adds.
A Christian ethos
The NSS letter against Dr Scott expresses concern about the ‘Christian ethos’ on his surgery’s website.
In accordance with GMC guidelines, a display screen in the surgery states: “some of the partners in this practice consider Christian faith an essential part of life.”
However, the practice website makes it clear that patients have the right not to accept the offer to talk on spiritual matters and it “will not affect your medical care.”
Dr Scott told The Sunday Times that he always asks patients for permission to introduce matters of faith and only does so at the end of a consultation “after the standard western medicine.”
On average, Scott says he makes the offer to one patient out of 40, and nine out of 10 accept.
In the past few days, two patients accepted his help. One had such bad body dysmorphia that they were self-harming and their marriage was at risk. Counselling had made no difference but Scott says the patient was comforted when he said: “God made you as you are, he loves you how you are.”
Dr Scott has warned of taking action against the GMC and NHS if the case is not closed within a month.
A doctor motivated by his faith
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre commented: “Richard Scott is a brilliant doctor, loved and respected in his community and especially by his patients. He does not just dispense pills, but cares about how a patient is going to feel and face the world. Because of his Christian faith he is motivated to look after the person well beyond the consulting room.
“There has been no formal complaint made to the General Medical Council either by the so-called vulnerable person or her acquaintance. Instead, the acquaintance approached an activist body known for its militant anti-religious campaigning.
“For the NSS to conclude that Richard is evangelising on an insubstantial basis illustrates its anti-Christian agenda. There are no substantive details of what happened. The GMC should be protecting Richard and his beliefs, according to their own guidance, not discriminating against him on the basis of hearsay evidence.”
Notes for editors
The BBC Radio 4 interview, The Battles That Won Our Freedoms: 3 Freedom of Religion can be listened to here:
GMC guidelines on Good medical practice can be found here:
GMC guidelines on Personal beliefs and medical practice can be found here:
Dr Richard Scott’s interview with The Sunday Times can be found here: