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Yet another Christian doctor is investigated for bringing up religion: what a waste of public money

A GP faces a disciplinary hearing for suggesting to a patient that Christianity might help depression

By on Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Dr Richard Scott is being subject to a heavy-handed investigation by the General Medical Council (Photo: PA)

Dr Richard Scott is being subject to a heavy-handed investigation by the General Medical Council (Photo: PA)

First, acknowledgements: among all the serious and sensible posts that follow my blogs I would like to extend special thanks to “theroadmaster” for standing up for Christian teaching on marriage in his posts following my recent blog about monogamy. Also thanks to “aearon43”, who equally patiently responded to critics of my recent blog about evolution and science lessons. Finally, thanks to “paulsays”, who often disagrees with me but whose posts are always courteous and refer to the issues raised; they are never ad hominem attacks (unlike some, she hints darkly).

Back to today’s blog: headlines last week suggest more targeting of Christians. “GP faces being struck off after telling suicidal patient: Jesus may help you” (the Daily Telegraph); “GP could lose job for telling a patient about God” (Daily Mail). What is this about? It seems that Dr Richard Scott of the Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate faces a disciplinary panel for suggesting to a 24-year-old suicidal male patient: “You might find Christianity offers you something more than your current faith does in this situation.”

This might seem an odd remark to make to a vulnerable patient with mental health issues, but if you read the mission statement of the Bethesda Medical Centre it states: “The six 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 if you do not wish to speak on matters of faith.”

After a normal professional consultation, Dr Scott is clear that he obtained the patient’s permission to raise the Christian faith. He said: “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.” Yet the patient was allegedly “very upset” at having his own faith “belittled” and some weeks later his mother made a complaint. The doctor, who was once a medical missionary and who has been practising medicine for 28 years in good standing, was given a formal warning about the incident. Believing himself innocent of the charge against him and not wanting it on his hitherto unblemished record, he appealed so has had to face a disciplinary panel.

At this hearing the patient did not appear because, according to the newspaper report, “he was suffering from anxiety”. Thus Dr Scott was not able to cross-examine him in court about his allegations which the doctor strenuously denies. The case has now been adjourned but the General Medical Council is determined to pursue it.

My own opinion of this is that the GMC is being unnecessarily heavy-handed. It should drop a case with such flimsy allegations. At the very least it is just one man’s word against another. The doctor believes he acted according to the Bethesda mission statement and that he has not infringed the GMC rules which state that doctors are not allowed to impose personal or religious beliefs on patients and, if such issues are raised, it must be done in a “sensitive and appropriate manner”.

One might also ask, why was it the mother, not the patient, who raised the complaint and why did she wait some weeks before doing so? I am not suggesting malice on her part, or a vague wish for compensation. After all, she lives in a culture where complaints about “rights” are now routine. Thus instead of talking to her son and coming to the sensible conclusion that in his agitated state he possibly misread what happened at the consultation and forgot its crucial detail – that he had given the doctor permission to raise the subject – she took the opportunity to make a public fuss. Much time and public money has been wasted and a good doctor’s reputation may still come to grief.

It goes without saying that if you are physically ill you want a competent doctor to attend you. Speaking as a Christian myself, if he/she is both medically competent and a fellow Christian, then so much the better. I recall a consultation with my own GP during a pregnancy in which he told me he did not believe in abortion. He knew I was a Catholic and I knew he was a keen Anglican so no offence was taken. But when you are dealing with a mental health problem the situation is different. Dr Scott works at a Christian medical centre (as the mother would have known) and he believes that drugs and counselling alone, though vital and helpful, cannot bring about a complete cure for depression or suicidal impulses. Christianity, not Islam or Hinduism for instance, is the religion of healing. Only yesterday at Mass, distracting my handicapped daughter with Gospel stories, I was struck by how often I explained a picture with: “This person is very sick and Jesus is making him better.”

The Bethesda Medical Centre says on its website, “Bethesda was a place in Bible (sic) where Christ healed a lame man and means literally ‘house of mercy’.

In this case, mercy needs to be accompanied by justice.

  • Honeybadger

    Who else would have tipped off the GMC about this, except the patient himself/herself, because, after all, what is said in the surgery stays in the surgery under patient confidentiality.

    Was there a dangerous motive behind this – to discredit and destroy a doctor’s vocation/career not on the grounds of misdiagnosis or malpractice which would endanger life… but on the Christian faith? 

    My recently deceased GP – who was agnostic – told me years ago that having a faith is often a help in many situations. I, for one, felt heartened and encouraged by this. No matter what faith you have, who else would feel the same about that statement?

    There isn’t supposed to be any money for the essential things – for example, to improve the lives of cancer patients and yet… AND YET! There is money to spare in taking a doctor to the GMC for suggesting Christianity is good for depression!

    I hope the case is thrown out. We need to step up our prayers for this doctor… and other parmacists, medics, nurses and doctors who are being persecuted for their faith IN THIS COUNTRY.

    Yes. Disturbing, isn’t it?

  • Stillsane&smiling

    My faith has saved the NHS expenditure, i.e. your taxes, in pills and potions!!

  • Oconnordamien

    The statements from The Telegraph and Mail, “GP faces being struck off after telling suicidal patient: Jesus may help you” and “GP could lose job for telling a patient about God” are overstated. 
    To quote the doctor himself, “The GMC may warn me or decide to take matters further. But it is worth the risk as I wanted to give confidence and inspiration to other Christians who work in the medical profession.”
    The GMC has stated, “The Committee will consider whether it is appropriate to issue Dr Scott with a warning in light of his alleged inappropriate expression of religious beliefs during a consultation, which distressed his patient. It is further alleged that Dr Scott subsequently confirmed, via national media, that he had sought to suggest his own faith had more to offer than that of the patient. 

    The doctor being struck off seems to be unlikely.

    It could be the case that the patient misunderstood the doctor’s comments or it could be that the doctor overstepped the mark,  but the intractability of all involved is the saddest thing. If only the mother had taken her complaint to the practice management rather than the GMC. If only the GMC had taken a more subtle approach than an official warning. And if only the doctor had realised that bringing this to national attention would tarnish his reputation far more than any reprimand.

    There are going to be two winners in this sad case, The Christian Legal Centre and newspapers like the Mail and Telegraph. Both of which are interested in publicity and don’t care how they get it.

  • Thinkmaw

    GMC rule:

     

    “You must
    not express to your patients your personal beliefs, including political,
    religious or moral beliefs, in ways that exploit their vulnerability or that
    are likely to cause them distress.”

      

    Dr Scott has
    written:

     

    “ Evangelism
    is a job for all Christians, at all times and in all places, and Christian GPs
    are in a unique position to reach the lost in their local area. Sharing the
    gospel with patients is not an abuse of trust because God himself gives us the
    authority and salvation is their greatest need. We need to allow time for
    consultations in which the gospel might reasonably be introduced….”

      

    (I have lifted both of these quotes out of The New
    Satesman.)

      

    I don’t want unduly to rain on the parade here and I
    certainly wish Dr Scott a full and fair hearing, but are Catholics sure that
    this is very good time to express too much cosiness towards someone  who seems at least perilously close to
    claiming that  his view of his  faith places him above legal and ethical
    considerations which would apply to other mortals?

     

    By his own admission, during broadcast interview, he has
    found it ‘reasonable to introduce the gospel’ to patients ‘literally thousands
    of times’ and his behaviour in this regard has been complained about by other
    patients before. I have an uneasy feeling about which side of the fence has
    been the more ‘heavy-handed’ in this matter.

     

    Caution is required here, I think, at least until all the
    facts have been established.

     

  • Anonymous

    Clearly the GMC has a very narrow and PC vision of what can help a patient back to health. Faith very much plays a part in this, not for everyone, but then  pills and potions do not work for everyone. This Doctor, whose beliefs are clearly well known, was just suggesting another, and well travelled road to recovery. A very smelly rat here.

  • Honeybadger

    The Christian Legal Centre is overwhelmed with cases like Dr Scott and others. It has stuff-all to do with publicity for the sake of publicity. It is a serious matter which is in the public interest, especially for practising Christians because their lives, careers and livelihoods are at stake through such matters being taken to the extreme like this.

    You are right. The person in question could have taken this to the practice manager and not all the way to the GMC, which is why I think there are troublemakers at large who would like faith to be erased.

    They are living in a cuckoo land if they think faith will just disappear.

  • Anonymous

    It seems that any overt expression of Christian belief or religious tenets in general, no matter how innocuous,  are being clamped down on by the Politically-Correct thought police within both the public and private sectors.  In this case a doctor has been hauled before the GMC for allegedly over-stepping the protocols of his profession by offering potential healing to one of his patients via the profoundly holistic Christian Faith which deals with both the body and soul.  The Faith-based convictions of the doctors at the Medical Practice where this gentleman works is public knowledge.  Yet the doctor in question possibly faces very negative consequences for an unblemished reputation that he has built up over 28 years.  It seems now that we are in a time when the illiberal interpretation of so-called liberal freedoms that we once took for granted, is the default reaction of politicians, judiciary and industrial management.  There needs to be a serious re-evaluation of the implementation of laws which cover freedom of expression and discrimination, as it seems that on a number of fronts Christians are being forced into a state of enforced silence which only a concerted effort on the part of believers and advocates for genuine civil rights can help  turn around on both the legislative and juridical levels.

  • http://twitter.com/Stefano_Mazzeo Stefano Mazzeo

    It is difficult being a Catholic Doctor these days, there is a  new Catholic Doctors website. The Catholic Medical Quarterly: http://www.cmq.org.uk

  • http://twitter.com/Stefano_Mazzeo Stefano Mazzeo

    It is difficult being a Catholic Doctor these days new Catholic Doctors website. The Catholic Medical Quarterly: http://www.cmq.org.uk

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

     I think you;re right. Presumably the doctor upset the patient and the patient complained.

    Was there a dangerous motive behind this

    Why should there have been? Doesn’t a patient upset by their doctor’s comments have a right to complain?