Sunday 6 May 2012
New leaflet from General Medical Council and Stonewall explains how to get ‘discriminatory’ doctors struck off
The leaflet, titled ‘Protecting patients: your rights as lesbian, gay and bisexual people’, has been ‘part funded’ by the Department of Health and has been published following a survey carried out by Stonewall into ‘Gay & Bisexual Men’s Health’.
Niall Dickson, the Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, has said that the leaflet ‘explains to lesbian, gay and bisexual patients what they should expect from the doctors treating them and what to do if they experience levels of care such as those detailed in the Stonewall survey’.
The new leaflet is based on an earlier draft in 2007 which has now been revised in the light of the Equality Act 2010.
It says that ‘the General Medical Council (GMC) sets out the principles of good practice in our core guidance to doctors, Good Medical Practice’ and tells doctors:
‘You must not unfairly discriminate against [patients] by allowing your personal views… about sexual orientation… to affect adversely your professional relationship with them or the treatment you provide or arrange.’
‘…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.’
It says that this latter requirement ‘applies to doctors’ personal beliefs about sexual orientation’.
The leaflet says that it is:
‘unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 for doctors to discriminate unfairly against lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people and that Stonewall have told the GMC that LGB people have sometimes found that doctors have:
• failed either to examine or to respond to a patient properly, for example they have not been willing to offer a smear test to lesbians
• told others that a patient is gay, when this had nothing to do with their treatment
• refused to accept someone as a patient because of their sexuality
• made offensive or discriminatory comments about LGB sexuality’
It goes on to say that people who have experienced any of these things ‘may want to talk to someone to try to prevent it happening again’ and tells them first to ‘contact the place where (they) received care’ but also advises that ‘the GMC can take action if we need to stop doctors from practising or to restrict their practice in some way’.
It adds that ‘if you think your doctor is not fit to practise, or may be a risk to patients, then please contact us’ and gives a helpline, email and postal address.
It adds that ‘we will review it carefully and respond to you as quickly as we can’.
The leaflet concludes by reminding the reader again that ‘if you think your doctor is not fit to practise, or may be a risk to patients, then contact the GMC’.
Now let me say at the outset that I believe doctors have a duty to serve their patients according to their healthcare need without partiality or discrimination on any basis and that LGB people with illness or other health problems should be treated with the same degree of respect as anyone else.
That should go without saying.
So why should I be concerned about a leaflet like this?
My concern is that it in the current environment it will be used to make vexatious complaints against doctors who take a traditional Christian view on sexual ethics.
We have already seen an escalation of civil liberties cases under the Equality Act brought against counsellors and adoption advisors who have not wanted to participate in sexual counselling or adoption involving same-sex couples.
The referral pathways for such services often involve GPs as the first point of contact who, should they prefer not to be involved, could well become the subject of a complaint leading to an enquiry, investigation or disciplinary proceeding.
Similarly, many LGB people find traditional Christian views on sexuality offensive, and some even regard both Christianity and also the Bible as ‘homophobic’. Accordingly some might well feel that the mere expression of orthodox Christians beliefs by a doctor in any public context, inside or outside a medical consultation, warrants a complaint to the official body.
The leaflet interestingly makes no mention whatsoever of a doctor’s right to abstain from undertaking referrals on conscience grounds or to hold or express moral and other beliefs provided it is done sensitively and appropriately in spite of the fact that these rights are acknowledged in other GMC documents. This lack of balance runs the risk of making complaints even more likely.
But what concerns me most about this leaflet is the fact that one minority group (LGB people) seems to be getting special treatment from both the General Medical Council and Department of Health.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation is only one of these nine protected characteristics, and yet the GMC seems not to have produced equivalent documents for any other of these protected groups. This is rather odd and arguably even discriminatory in itself.
I wonder, if asked, whether the GMC would issue similar guidance leaflets in partnership with groups representing every other of the nine protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act, and if the Department of Health would also ‘part fund’ these.
In other words could we have leaflets also for elderly people, children, disabled people, transgender people, married people, single people, people in civil partnerships, pregnant people, non-pregnant people, every racial group, every faith group, and for both men and women?
It seems a reasonable thing to ask for. I think I might ask them.