The UK’s independent regulator for doctors has said it will review its decision to close a case against a Christian doctor facing second-hand complaints of breaking professional conduct rules by discussing religion with patients.
Tim Dieppe, head of public policy at the evangelical think tank Christian Concern, spoke in favour of Dr Richard Scott, the general practitioner in Kent accused of improperly discussing religion.
“Dr Scott has been put through a lot of stress and anxiety from all these various complaints in what seems like a targeted campaign from the National Secular Society,” Dieppe told The Guardian.
In Dieppe’s view, the General Medical Council should not have investigated last year’s complaint which “was clearly a spurious complaint.” However, he thought the council was right to conclude the complaint did not merit action.
“I think it would be a real shame if they have decided to review it,” he said. “We are confident that Richard has done nothing wrong.”
Scott discussed his medical practice and faith in an interview with BBC Radio Kent in December. He said he hadn’t changed his approach, but he stressed the need to be “bold” to help patients with difficult mental health problems and personality disorders that some consider to be beyond help.
“Almost everybody can be helped. But you have to take some risks,” he said. He compared discussion of faith to a figurative arrow in a quiver that can be fired to help people, even if it causes trouble with regulatory authorities.
“You have to consider as a Christian doctor who is your ultimate boss. And it’s not the general medical council, it’s Jesus Christ,” he said. “And I’m prepared to take risks on behalf of Jesus because I’ve seen how much patients can benefit.”
“I’ve seen hundreds of patients benefit over the years, and if one or two don’t like what I do, then that’s a risk I’m prepared to take,” said Scott.
He rejected claims his actions would constitute harassment or harm, and said he would accede to the patient’s wishes if he or she rejected his offer to talk about faith.
The General Medical Council’s conduct code for medical practice states: “You may talk about your own personal beliefs only if a patient asks you directly about them, or indicates they would welcome such a discussion. You must not impose your beliefs and values on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of them.”
Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society, welcomed the review of the complaint. He contended that Scott’s recent comments make it appear that he holds the General Medical Council “in contempt” and considers himself above its rules that protect patients.
“Being an evangelical Christian should not exempt him from the standards expected of all doctors working in the UK,” said Evans, whose organisation initially filed the complaint.
In June 2019, the General Medical Council had begun an investigation into Scott’s fitness to practice after a complaint from the National Secular Society.
The National Secular Society, citing an anonymous complaint, lodged its own complaint voicing concern that the doctor was “continuing to pray and promote Christianity during consultations in an attempt to convert patients.”
The National Secular Society said a member of the public had voiced concern to them that a “highly vulnerable” acquaintance treated at the practice “does not feel able to express discomfort at the use of prayer.”
After a three-month investigation, the General Medical Council said there was no first-hand account or complaint from any patient about the doctor. In the words of the council, the secularist group had sent “an anonymous hearsay account about how Dr Scott expressed his religious beliefs to a ‘highly vulnerable’ patient.”
There was “no convincing evidence” that Scott imposes his personal beliefs on vulnerable patients or discusses his faith in situations where patients state that they do not want to discuss it.
In December Scott told The Mail on Sunday that he discusses his faith with perhaps one in 40 patients, but said he asked for permission first. Perhaps 10 patients over a period of two decades had complained, in his estimate.
Scott characterized the complaint as “spurious” and said it placed a “totally unnecessary” toll on him and his family.
“This complaint should never have got to this stage,” he said. “It was clear from the outset that the (secular society) was targeting not just me and the practice, but also the freedom of Christian professionals across the UK to share their faith in the workplace.”
He hoped the outcome would prevent similar treatment of other Christians in medical practice.
The Christian Legal Centre, a subsidiary of Christian Concern, last month said Scott had been “vindicated” by the inquiry’s rejection of the complaint.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, in December said the rejection of the complaint gives reassurance to Christian doctors and professionals that “they can share their faith in the workplace” and gives “clear guidance on how they can share it without fear of losing their jobs.”
“The agenda of the National Secular Society to remove Christian witness from the workplace is clear,” she charged. “Yet this guidance from the (medical council) should now provide more protection, allowing doctors, like Richard, to get on with their jobs without fear.”
She said Scott’s Christian faith motivates his behaviour towards patients “to look after the person well beyond the consulting room.”
Scott had received a warning from the medical council in 2012 after he reportedly told a patient that “the devil haunts people who do not turn to Jesus.” The council said this was a “significant departure” from its professional principles.
In his December interview with BBC Radio Kent, Scott said he regarded as unfair the judgment for the first complaint against him, objecting that the process did not allow his barrister to cross-examine the patient accusing him.
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