Friday, 21 October 2011

Doctor Jesus - Refreshing the parts that other doctors cannot reach

I wrote a while ago that Doctor Richard Scott is being investigated by the GMC for preaching and trying to convert patients. Now Dr Mark Huckstep, an Oxfordshire GP, has been disciplined for bringing God into the surgery too after NHS Oxfordshire received complaints. He has been investigated by NHS watchdog the National Clinical Assessment Service (NCAS) and the General Medical Council (GMC).

Dr Huckstep admitted he used his Christian beliefs as a "complementary therapy" for patients and refused to refer women for abortions because the killing of an unborn child by doctors is a “morally wrong act which also damages women emotionally and psychologically”.

Doctors are permitted by GMC guidelines to pass patients wanting an abortion on to other colleagues if the procedure is against their beliefs, but not to pass judgment on the patient or the procedure. Christian anti-abortionists often use the line that abortion harms the woman, as I've written about several times - most recently here. Just to be clear - there is no evidence of serious harm to women who have abortions, despite the lies (yes, lies) about cancer and mental illness.

Is faith a 'complementary therapy' and, if so, should a doctor be using it in a clinical setting?

Huckstep claims that “This was discussed at length with the PCT approximately seven years ago. We came to the agreement that my Christianity could be treated as a form of “complementary therapy” in addition to usual treatment – ie I would first treat patients according to best practice guidelines, hand them the prescription if there was one, and then ask their consent to talk with them about their lives from a broader point of view than what would be possible if one believed that science could explain our human condition adequately.

“If the patient consented, then I was free to discuss more metaphysical issues such as the meaning of their lives, their struggles with feelings of guilt, shame and meaninglessness, their fear of death, etc, and to suggest books that may help in confronting these issues. Such discussions were always in addition to normal treatment, if time allowed. They were not instead of normal modes of treatment.”

Huckstep's defence was that, because he is certain God exists, “It would be impossible to relate to patients pretending that science could answer their deepest needs when I am fully aware it cannot”.

This defence is very similar to the one used by Dr Richard Scott. He's claiming that he refreshes the parts that other doctors cannot reach. Which is fine if you're a beer, not so good if you're supposed to be keeping people alive long enough to worry about shame and meaninglessness.

He says he did it 'if the patient consented'. It's already been demonstrated by the Scott case that patients are often vulnerable when they come to see a GP and may not feel able to say no. What's more, GMC guidelines state that any discussion of faith should be introduced by the patient, not the doctor as this can easily be an abuse of their position of power. This should be an opt-in, not an opt-out.

The story was featured in the Oxford Times. One of the comments on it is 'He certainly never asked my permission before embarking upon his religious spill (sic), and he certainly kept me waiting over half an hour before being seen and during my consultation he disappeared off a couple of times to do other things'.

So why did the PCT agree to let him do this? They didn't.

A spokesman for the PCT said “The PCT has discussed with Dr Huckstep in the past about his religious beliefs but the PCT has always made it very clear that his religious convictions were not to be imposed on any patient who did not share his views. The PCT did not use the term complementary therapy nor feel that this term in any way reflects its views.”

Huckstep sounds like a bit of a disaster as a doctor anyway. He was also suspended for his 'catastrophic' approach to admin which could have put patients lives at risk -as featured on a recent C4 Dispatches. So it sounds like his real doctoring wasn't even treating the parts of patients' lives it should have been.

Following the investigation, NHS Oxfordshire said Huckstep could return to work under strict conditions, which include a retraining programme.

He has not returned to work as a doctor. His work as a speaker spreading the Good Word about Jesus probably keeps him busy. The sick people of Oxfordshire will have to find something else to treat the human condition. Antibiotics, maybe.

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