A Christian doctor in the United Kingdom has come 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.”
The National Secular Society said in the complaint filed in May that Scott, who has worked as a doctor for more than 20 years, made a “vulnerable” patient feel “discomfort at the use of prayer.” The allegation was made to the NSS by an acquaintance of the patient.
“The acquaintance told the NSS that the patient felt unable to express discomfort and was not able to raise the matter formally or change GP practice,” the NSS contends in a news release. “The NSS wrote to the GMC and the local clinical commissioning group to highlight the case and ask how the bodies intended to protect patients’ right to access health care free from evangelism.”
Recall that in 2012, GMC issued Scott a warning after he was accused by the NSS of telling a patient “the devil haunts people who do not turn to Jesus.” Scott was also accused of expressing his religious beliefs in a manner that distressed a “psychologically troubled” patient.
The head of the GMC at the time declared that Scott’s actions constituted “a significant departure from the principles in Good Medical Practice.”
The NSS notes that Scott could have been fired if there was another complaint issued against him in the ensuing five years. But no complaints were made in that time. The NSS contends that there have been three informal complaints and one minor written complaint filed against Scott since 2017.
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.