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Should the NHS accommodate religion?

Should Muslim patients be treated differently by the NHS? The British Medical Journal has launched an interesting debate on whether medical care should take account  of the 'requirements 'of faith.

Britain's 1.6 million Muslims are twice as likely to report poor health and disability but the NHS keeps no details on patients by religious affinity, according to Edinburgh University primary care professor Aziz Sheikh.

He said the NHS should record patients' religion as well as their ethnic grouping. 'It is absurd that we do not, for example, know the perinatal mortality or smoking prevalence among Muslims,' he said.

The NHS should be more accommodating to the religious needs of Muslims, he said. For example, male infant circumcision should be available throughout the NHS. Although some NHS trusts do offer circumcision, most parents are forced into the poorly regulated private sector, he said.

Many Muslims would prefer to see a same-sex doctor for reasons of modesty, he went on, but this was often not possible, despite the increasing number of female doctors in the NHS.

More information about drug ingredients should also be available to allow Muslim patients to avoid drugs conbatining pork or alcohol.

However, Aneez Esmail, professor of primary care at Manchester University, argued that it was simply not practical for the NHS to meet everyone's demands for special services. He pointed out that the NHS already monitored ethnicity to assess the effectiveness of its services and to challenge inequality.

'Going down the path of providing special services for defined groups risks stigmatizing and stereotyping,' he wrote in the BMJ in response to Sheikh's proposals.

He said that the way forward is 'not a crude categorization of people into even more tightly defined groups' or about 'assuming that the Asian patient has a core set of beliefs about illness because of fixed ethnic traits.' He saw no reason for the NHS to provide a national circumcision service for Muslim and Jewish families. He suggested the NHS simply provide a list of accredited doctors trained to carry out the procedure.

What do you think?

Page created on January 15th, 2007

Page updated on December 1st, 2009