A Christian doctor is set to contest disciplinary measures and mandatory conditions imposed against him by NHS England after he was told he would be barred from the NHS Practitioners List for offering to pray with some of his patients.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Dr Scott, 62, from Margate, will challenge the conditions and threats to his inclusion on the NHS’s ‘National Performers List’, at a six-day hearing beginning on Monday 26 September at the Ashford Tribunal Hearing Centre, Kent.
NHS England has taken up a case against Dr Scott despite the General Medical Council (GMC) ruling twice, in both 2019 and 2020, that he had not breached any of its guidelines and that “discussion of faith in consultations is not prohibited.”
Sent on a ‘professional boundaries’ course
Following a series of investigations throughout 2020 and 2021, Dr Scott was given a list of conditions by an NHS performance advisory panel which included taking an £1800 ‘professional boundaries’ course, at his own expense. Dr Scott has said he was “horrified” when he discovered that the course is usually reserved for doctors who have inappropriately touched a patient or crossed sexual boundaries.
When Dr Scott contested going on the course, he was told that for refusing to comply he would need to also undertake a psychological assessment to ‘re-set’ his approach when offering patients prayer.
Despite increasing pressure, Dr Scott, who is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, refused to undertake the course or assessment, saying, “I am prepared to take the consequences and face down this high-handed harassment and bullying by the PAG.”
Prayer is ‘harmful’?
As part of their investigation, NHS England sent in a clinical advisor to Dr Scott’s Bethesda Medical Practice in Thanet, Kent, to assess the role of religion in its services to patients.
The first adviser reported minimal concerns, which could be adjusted, and concluded that Dr Scott “would deal with the physical presentations of ill health in the conventional way first and would always use the national guidelines when investigating presentations.”
Dissatisfied with the report, NHS England then sent in another clinical adviser to the practice, who demanded full access to his appointments’ database for a six-month period. Described as a “fishing expedition” by Dr Scott’s lawyers, the adviser expanded scrutiny beyond the scope of praying for patients and concluded that Dr Scott had a case to answer.
An NHS Performers Lists Decision Panel (PLDP) then brought forward a behind-closed-doors oral disciplinary hearing in November 2021 that would bring into question Dr Scott’s continued inclusion on the National Performers List under Regulation 10.
At the hearing, Dr Scott was told by NHS England that it was down to him to prove that praying for patients was not “harmful.”
Lawyers representing Dr Scott have argued that “there is no evidence that Dr Scott’s practise of praying with his patients is an obstacle in terms of the efficient delivery of health care services.” They argued that the treatment of Dr Scott has been “disproportionate”, “humiliating” and amounted harassment under Human Rights law on the grounds of his Christian belief.
They stated that: “a doctor who suggested attendance by a stressed patient at a yoga class (secular holistic care) would not be required to prove informed consent in the same onerous way.”
The advisory panel, however, upheld the conditions against Dr Scott and suggested that they are an “appropriate, measured and proportionate response to the concerns raised” and that they were “not bound” by the two rulings from the GMC.
‘Relentless witch hunt’
Dr Scott, who has worked as a GP for 35 years, has described his treatment as a “relentless campaign” to force his Christian beliefs and approach out of the NHS. He has described the “deep intolerance in the NHS towards Christian beliefs and complete lack of understanding of what prayer is and how it positively impacts people’s lives.” He also said that imposing the course on him was a “power trip” with the aim of “humiliating and pressurising” him and has said that the toll on him and his family has been “immense.”
If NHS England uphold the conditions placed upon him, Dr Scott says that he will face no alternative but to pursue further legal action.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Dr Scott is a highly experienced doctor whose life and career has been committed to serving his patients and community.
“He is loved and respected by is community which he has served for decades. His love for Jesus and dedication to his faith is also well known where he works and within the community.
“What business is it of NHS England to subject his hardworking doctor to intimidating investigations all to try and put an end to him offering prayer to his patients.
“Secular activists, whether campaign groups or those working within the NHS have been relentless in their pursuit of Dr Scott. It’s time for this to end.
“There is no evidence that Dr Scott’s practice of praying with his patients has in any way interfered with his delivery of excellent medicine – in fact, quite the opposite.
“At a time when there is widespread recognition that emotional and spiritual support play a significant role in physical healing, it is particularly distasteful to see NHS England picking on a Christian doctor appropriately offering that support.
“Richard Scott is a brilliant doctor who loves Jesus and believes passionately about the positive impact prayer and hope of the Christian faith can have on someone’s life. He is respected in his community and especially by his patients.
“The sinister aspect of this case is the way in which the NHS authorities have gone fishing for evidence. His mere existence as an unashamed follower of the Christian faith ad believer in prayer seems to offend them. They appear intent on having such an upfront man of faith taken out of the profession.”
GMC case dropped again
His case now comes despite Dr Scott being vindicated twice by the General Medical Council following investigations into his fitness to practise in both 2019 and 2020.
In 2019 he faced a six-month fitness to practise investigation, following an anonymous complaint filed by the National Secular Society (NSS) on behalf of an ‘anonymous’ patient. The complaint claimed that the patient was uncomfortable discussing Christian faith and being offered prayer during a consultation with Dr Scott. The GMC concluded their investigation in November 2019, stating that there was no evidence, no specific complaints and that Dr Scott had not broken GMC guidance in offering to pray for his patients. Dr Scott characterised the complaint as “spurious” and said it placed a “totally unnecessary” toll on him and his family.
However, directly following the December 2019 judgment and Dr Scott highlighting the outcome in the media, the NSS emailed a new complaint to the GMC on 18 December 2019, claiming they had “new evidence.”
In the email, the NSS called for the investigation to be re-opened due to Dr Scott’s comments in the Mail on Sunday on 15 December. Dr Scott said in the article that he “discussed faith with one in 40 patients, insisting he always asked for permission first,” and that he had had roughly 10 complaints from patients over a 24-year period as a GP.
The NSS wrote in response:
“Being an evangelical Christian should not exempt Dr Scott from the standards expected of all doctors working in the UK. A refusal to take action against Dr Scott would send a strong signal that the standards permit doctors to proselytise.”
By 5 January 2020, news was leaked via the Guardian that despite the GMC’s clear judgment vindicating Dr Scott, they would be re-opening an investigation.
On 30 January 2020, Dr Scott received a letter from the GMC, who apologised for the media leak, and reiterated that the original investigation was “procedurally flawed” and should never have taken place.
Nonetheless, they informed him that they were still going to re-open the investigation due to ‘Rule 12’, which allows the GMC to follow-up any allegedly new misconduct allegations against a medical practitioner.
‘Review to protect the public’
In a written decision on 14 February 2020, a GMC assistant registrar, whose impartiality has subsequently been brought into question, said:
“I am of the view that although the realistic prospect test may not be met on the evidence available at this time, it is possible that further evidence may be obtainable and that it would be proportionate for the GMC to explore this further in the interests of patient safety. Whilst I acknowledge the points made in Dr Scott’s comments, it remains that the GMC have a duty to consider all concerns reported to us.”
The decision concluded, “that a review is necessary for the protection of the public.”
Due to the pandemic, there was no further action against Dr Scott until 30 September 2020 when the GMC wrote to him:
“I know that receiving this letter and being involved in this process is a stressful experience. I hope you understand after reading the information provided that we need to make sure there are no ongoing risks to patients, as our role is to protect the public…I would like to also like to take this time to assure you that we are conscious that these are unprecedented times and we don’t wish to add to the pressures on you.”
Faced with fresh scrutiny, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Dr Scott had to defend his actions again in October 2020. He brought into question the impartiality of the assistant registrar who, in her decision to re-open the case, had repeated that Dr Scott ‘imposed’ his beliefs on patients without any evidence.
Dr Scott wrote that he had:
“never denied the Assistant Registrar’s accusation that I have initiated faith conversations. What I contest, is that this is forbidden by the guidance. There are many circumstances where patients indicate that they would welcome such a discussion. Nevertheless, before starting any conversation I always ensure I have sought the patient’s permission. Accordingly, I consider my practice to be on all fours with the guidance.”
‘Faith discussion not prohibited’
In a written judgment on 25 November 2020, the GMC stated again that they had found ‘no grounds for a fresh decision’ against Dr Scott and upheld their decision from November 2019.
The letter to Dr Scott says:
“As you may be aware, discussion of faith in consultations is not prohibited. As long as the matter is raised sensitively and with the patient’s consent, it would not be a matter suggesting impairment.
“… As regards NSS’ reference to patient complaints, we have not been made aware of any specific patient complaints against Dr Scott.”
NHS England re-open case
However, evidence has revealed that on being informed of the GMC’s ruling, an NHS England Performance Advisory Group was “disappointed that the GMC would not be accepting a referral in this matter” and began an investigation which has led to the hearing at Ashford Tribunal Hearing Centre which begins on 26 September 2022.
Find out more about Dr Richard Scott