KENT — A Christian doctor in the United Kingdom is again under investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC) after the National Secular Society (NSS) told the entity that an unnamed “highly vulnerable” patient could be exposed to the doctor’s alleged practice of “promoting Christianity” during office visits.
Richard Scott is a general practitioner (GP) at Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, Kent, where he occasionally gives spiritual encouragement to patients as part of his holistic approach to the person’s needs.
On June 7, the GMC sent a letter to Scott to advise that it had launched a fitness to practice investigation after receiving “some information” from the Secular Society. The information included notation of a BBC radio interview with Scott on an episode entitled “The Battles That Won Our Freedoms: Freedom of Religion.”`
According to the Christian Legal Centre, the correspondence stated that the standard-setting organization 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 practice medicine is potentially impaired.”
The GMC also contacted the National Health Service (NHS), which similarly plans to investigate Scott and discuss the matter during a Performance Advisory Group meeting next month.
As previously reported, in 2012, the GMC issued a warning to Scott, a former missionary doctor, after a 24-year-old man filed a complaint against him for talking about Jesus at the end of an appointment. The man had been suicidal and was taking medication.
However, the Bethesda Medical Centre website specifically notes that it is named after the biblical Pool of Bethesda and that many of its GP’s are Christians.
“Bethesda was a place in the Bible where Christ healed a lame man and means literally ‘house of mercy,'” it states. “The majority of the partners are practicing 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.”
However, the hospital also instructs patients to advise their doctor that they do not wish to speak about spiritual matters if they are uncomfortable.
“If you do not wish this, that is your right and will not affect your medical care,” it outlines. “Please tell the doctor (or drop a note to the practice manager) if you do not wish to speak on matters of faith.”
Scott also points to the GMC guidelines, which state that “[i]t may … 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.”
They prohibit only speech that would “impose [the doctor’s] beliefs and values on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of them.”
Scott says that he always asks patients — should he broach the subject — if they are willing to talk, and nine out of 10 oblige. He also notes that he only approaches an estimated one out of 40 clients about matters of faith.
He states that he is likewise amazed that the GMC and NHS “should [also] deem personal views expressed in a radio interview as sufficient to initiate a fitness to practice investigation” and “possible sanction.”
“Richard Scott is a brilliant doctor, loved and respected in his community and especially by his patients,” Christian Legal Centre’s Andrea Williams, which is representing Scott, said in a statement. “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,” she said. “The GMC should be protecting Richard and his beliefs, according to their own guidance, not discriminating against him on the basis of hearsay evidence.”