Review by Peter Saunders, CMF Chief Executive
On 14 June the General Medical Council's Investigation Committee reprimanded a Christian GP who shared his faith with a patient at the end of a private consultation.1 Dr Richard Scott has now been issued with a warning which will remain on his record for five years and further serious or persistent failure to follow GMC guidance will put his registration at risk.
The full judgement is available on the GMC website (2) and the Huffington Post (3) gives more detail of what Dr Scott said in his defence. I have also written a detailed commentary on the case and its implications. (4)
The case has aroused controversy because the GMC made their assessment based on two varying accounts of what actually happened, but seem to have preferred the patient's testimony over that of Dr Scott where the two accounts conflicted. Also the initial complaint was made by the patient's mother who was not a witness to the consultation and transcripts of Dr Scott's radio interviews were gathered by the National Secular Society, who undoubtedly had an ideological vested interest in the outcome.
The GMC committee concluded that Dr Scott 'caused the patient distress which [he] should have foreseen' by the way he expressed his beliefs and that he also 'sought to suggest [his] own faith had more to offer than that of the patient' and in so doing 'sought to impose [his] own beliefs'.
They claimed that his actions were in direct conflict with paragraph 19 of its supplementary guidance: Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice and also with Paragraph 33 of 'Good Medical Practice'.
The GMC defended its issuing of a warning by saying it was obliged 'to lay down a marker as to expected standards and to maintain public confidence in the profession.' But it added that 'the discussion of religion within consultations is not prohibited' and that this case 'relates to the manner in which religion was approached during the consultation'.
This was later confirmed in a letter from David Horkin, GMC Investigation Officer, which made it clear that the GMC had no objection to faith discussions per se providing they were carried out 'in an appropriate and sensitive manner' with the patient's consent and that the doctor did not 'belittle/disrespect the patient's own faith' and did not 'impose his views' on any patient who 'does not want to discuss such matters'.
Many will have misgivings about the way this case was handled both by the GMC and the media but it would be a great tragedy if, as a result, Christian doctors shrunk back from providing appropriate spiritual care or from sharing their own Christian beliefs in a sensitive way, when appropriate, and when the patient had welcomed it.
To the contrary, good doctors have a professional duty to practise 'whole person' medicine that is not concerned solely with physical needs, but also addresses social, psychological, behavioural and spiritual factors that may be contributing to a person's illness.