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GP fights accusation that he ‘pushed faith’ on patient

14 June 2012

by Madeleine Davies

A CHRISTIAN GP who is fighting an official warning after discussing his faith with a patient has accused the General Medical Council (GMC) of subjecting him to an “amateur” and “unjust” trial.

Dr Richard Scott (above), who works at Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, Kent, was first reported to the GMC in September 2010, after he discussed his faith with a patient described by the GMC’s lawyer as having a “troubled psychological history” (News, 27 May 2011).

The disciplinary proceedings were put on hold after the complainant refused to give evidence in person, but the GMC has now ruled that he can give evidence by telephone, and does not have to attend the hearing.

Dr Scott, represented by a human-rights barrister, Paul Diamond, and supported by the Christian Legal Centre, argued on Monday that his case should be “struck out” unless it was possible for the complainant to be cross-examined face to face. It was not possible for a panel or jury to ascertain the truth of a testimony “without seeing a person’s body-language or demeanour”, he argued.

“The amateur and unjust way this trial is being conducted is an insult to me and every member of the medical profession.”

The chief executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson, said that all aspects of hearings were heard in public, “unless we need to hear some evidence in private to protect a vulnerable witness, or we are dealing with details about a doctor’s own health”.

GMC lawyers have said that Dr Scott, who is challenging the imposition of an official warning on his unblemished record, “crossed the line” in discussing his own faith with a “vulnerable” patient who was left “very upset”.

On Monday, counsel for the GMC, Andrew Hurst, said that Dr Scott had told the patient that “his one and only hope of recovery was through Jesus.” Dr Scott has dis­puted the account, and says that, after a “lengthy medical consulta­tion”, he offered the patient the opportunity to talk about the part that faith may have in helping him with his problems.

After the consultation, the patient continued to seek treatment from the practice, which is well known locally for having Christian partners, but his mother filed a complaint, alleging that Dr Scott had tried to “push religion” on her son.

The GMC guidance for doctors is that they should not “normally” discuss personal beliefs with patients “unless those beliefs are directly relevant to the patient’s care”. It also states: “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.”

Mr Hurst told the hearing on Monday that the GMC was not “hostile or opposed or biased against Christianity, or any other religion”.

Update: Yesterday, the General Medical Council's Investgiation Committee published its full decision. It said that Dr Scott was being "formally warned as to your future conduct". See full story next week.

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