Sunday, 6 May 2012

New leaflet from General Medical Council and Stonewall explains how to get ‘discriminatory’ doctors struck off

The General Medical Council, the official regulatory body for doctors, has published a leaflet in conjunction with gay rights activist group Stonewall, giving detailed advice about how to lodge a complaint against doctors who are felt to be discriminating against gay, lesbian and bisexual patients.

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.

13 comments:

  1. How is it one group of people is allowed such self-expression that it is proposed to change every relevant law on the statute book in line with their preferences, but another, more numerous group is forbidden the slightest expression of deeply-held convictions and threatened with loss of livelihood?

    Some people are definitely much more equal than others ....

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    1. That's wild exaggeration. First, we are all human beings. As such, everyone is entitled to equal rights. LGBT folk are merely asking to be accorded theirs, just as women and coloured people did.

      If by "deeply-held convictions" you mean religion, then wailing that you are "forbidden the slightest expression" is nonsense. Playing the victim is hypocritical, especially since in the UK church and state are not yet separate.

      As for extremist from all religions being more numerous than LGBT people, are you really claiming that 1 in 10 of the population is a bigoted pulpit-basher? Most religious people I know are very tolerant. The bigots are very much a minority.

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    2. "Most religious people I know are very tolerant. The bigots are very much a minority."

      I'd agree with that. The real concern here that Peter Saunders highlights is that lobby groups like Stonewall will abuse this by partaking in "sting operations" as has been done in the past.

      In other words militant homosexuals will deliberately enquire as to their doctors views on sexuality, and when they encounter a Christian with orthodox views they will maliciously complain and go out of their way to get them struck off. We have seen this happen before in the Christian B&B case, where two homosexuals deliberately tried to book in with the sole purpose of creating trouble for the owners.

      As Christians we don't want special treatment, just an equal playing field. If you can have Gay bars and Gay night clubs, then we can have Christian B&Bs. Simple.

      I agree with the Historian David Starkey, (a controversial character I admit!) who is openly homosexual and rebukes miltant homosexuals for attempting to introduce a new type of tyranny. Here's a guy who's moral lifestyle I may not agree with but who understands liberty.

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  2. It is hardly likely that an evangelical doctor would show discrimination to a patient on racial grounds. But when it comes to sexual orientation there are greater dangers of homophobia, based upon a misinterpretation of ancient texts. You are being disingenuous.

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    1. for the record, the above impersonation of me was written by the Rev. David Heron; formerly a priest in Durham diocese who admitted to a comprehensive list of charges of conduct unbecoming a clergyman, in relation to offensive, sexist and racist comments made about myself, my wife, my children and others. He admitted to the misconduct and was given an official rebuke by the Bishop.

      Now, having retired, he has resorted to impersonating me in some sort of bizarre personal vendetta. Readers will have to judge for themselves whether this is appropriate behaviour for someone who accuses others of being disingenuous.

      Apologies, Peter, that he has cluttered up your comment thread but best that your readers are fully aware of the matter.

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  3. "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?"

    This is childish. You know perfectly well that doctors already treat the elderly, the disabled, the pregnant etc and that the Equality Act refers to all walks of life, including employment and housing. Try to get a job as a black disabled woman, for example.

    As for married/unmarried: that is quite simple. A doctor must not refuse to provide gynecological treatment or birth control because the patients are unmarried in the eyes of the law. You don't harangue someone because they contracted a STD either.

    LGB folk do present a specific case for medics. For example, there are many recorded instances of lesbians being refused a gynecological exam because of the doctor's ignorance of both sexual practices and the risks of STD transmission. Prophylaxis appropriate for WSW is also woefully difficult to obtain.

    Straight or LGB, you should be able to talk with your doctor and discuss issues related to sexuality. The doctor should be able to reply knowledgeably (and without blushing beetroot, which is ridiculous in someone trained in medicine) and from a professional viewpoint, not some philosophy derived from an old book.

    As for the transgender angle, I agree with you: there should be a booklet as well. No doubt it's on its way. I don't think you'll like it though, as I rather think the fact that what is currently being tentatively referred to as Gender Incongruence can cause a great deal of suffering and distress. Refusing to help would be extremely callous and cruel.

    I don't know what the official procedures for transition are in the UK. I do know, from others, that a lot of discrimination remains, including administrative refusals to recognise the change of gender on paperwork. So there's a lot to be covered, and that's just for binary transitions. Wait til you get to the genderqueer folk like me.

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  4. "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."

    I think this is a fair assumption.

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  5. This view just expressed on my twitter account in response to me expressing orthodox Christian views on sex is quite typical in my experience of how many people today think.

    Stuart Sutton ‏ @StuSutton
    @welsh_gas_doc @icuchris @drpetersaunders thank goodness he's not practicing. I would think a referral to @gmcuk appropriate if he was.

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  6. So doctors, who are duty bound to warn patients of behaviour which is likely to harm them, are going to be afraid to tell gay men to stop the practises which cause them so much damage for fear of reprisals.

    How is this going to help gay people?

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  7. What practises [sic] would those be, Flossie? I mean apart from ones which are also engaged in by quite a number of straight people?

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  8. I was thinking of the homosexual practice which transmits HIV - incidence of which has risen by 70% (new cases) in the last decade among gay men, according to data from the Health Protection Agency.

    But there are others, which I feel are most unlikely to be practised by straight people.

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  9. Unlikely? Really, Flossie, buy yourself a heterosexual porno mag and read it from cover to cover, including the small ads. It might just be a revelation to you.

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    1. No thanks.

      I think you are rather missing the point here. It is unlikely that doctors would feel intimidated by pointing out the consequences of unnatural or perverse acts to a straight person for fear of being pursued by angry porno activists.

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