Monday, 23 May 2011


Dr. Richard Scott, a local GP from Bethesda Medical Centre, has come under fire by the General Medical Council (GMC) for talking about God with a patient. The complaint against him was filed after he openly discussed his faith with the possible intention of sending the patient on an 'alpha course.' The patient's mother subsequently reported Dr. Scott on the grounds that he was "pushing religion" on her son and this has led the GMC to accuse Dr. Scott of "exploiting a vulnerable patient."

As a person who is not religious, I do feel this sounds like an unfair and unjust accusation, especially as all Dr. Scott appeared to be doing is offering to help somebody, albeit with evangelical motives. The NHS Choices website does also make it clear that Bethesda Medical Centre is home to GPs who are practising Christians and states that "the offer of talking to you on spiritual matters is of great benefit" but that "if you do not wish this, that is your right and will not affect your medical care." This sounds reasonable to me, but I suppose it depends how vehemently opposed to religion the patient happens to be, but this is a complex issue, depending on your viewpoint.

According to BBC News, Niall Dickson at the GMC says that doctors should not "impose their beliefs on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of religious, political or other beliefs or views.” As a result, it sounds to me like Dr. Scott is caught up in a secularist agenda intended to discourage doctors from allowing religious views to influence their professional conduct. In my opinion, there are many benefits to secularism which certainly deserve wider public support, but sullying a man's reputation as a doctor and destroying his career is not one of them.

I've already seen an entry by Matt on Thanet Star about the Dr. Scott story, so I left a comment on his blog which I am going to cross-post here, as I feel it accurately illustrates the point I'd like to make:

Now, I absolutely defend Dr. Scott's right to religious freedom. But what's happened here appears to be part of a wider media narrative about the difficulty of squaring science and religion. Many secularists campaign for religion to be excluded from civil affairs and education. In their view, how should excluding religion from healthcare be considered any different? I'm definitely sensing a secularist agenda here in relation to Dr Scott's treatment.

The argument is that doctors are in the business of medicine. Medicine is a science. Science is an enterprise founded, in the main, upon rationalism. Some critics (à la Dawkins) consider religious beliefs to be irrationally held, founded only upon personal faith and not on scientific evidence. These are big talking points.

I'm guessing this persecution of Dr. Scott is due to people's anxieties about doctors in general. Can you be a man of science, as well as a man of faith? If religious views are irrational, does that impinge on the scientific rationalist nature of being a doctor? Do religious views have a negative impact upon a doctor's professionalism or medical practice, or do they enhance it?

Is prescribing religious 'complimentary therapy' tantamount to prescribing homoeopathic medicines which are scientifically unproven and positively placeboic? In the same way I'd agree that homeopathy is an affront to science and to medicine (and I'd be quick to admonish a doctor who prescribed homeopathic drugs) I'm also sceptical that this non-medicinal 'complimentary therapy' Dr Scott speaks of is any different. But that's just me.

In my view, if a doctor's treatment doesn't yield a measurable biological or physiological outcome for the patient's well-being or physical health, should it really be encouraged that doctors resort to prescribing such therapies (or medicines) in the future? I would be bewildered if I felt a doctor was fobbing me off with dummy treatment. Is being sent to an alpha course really any different?

However, if it's the patient's mother who filed the complaint, I am suspicious about the full story. Dr. Scott certainly doesn't deserve to lose his job over this, nor have his record tarnished. He obviously had good intentions. That's as plain as day, and it would be religious discrimination if his reputation suffered as a result of this.

But I do feel people need to feel free to discuss to what extent (if any) religious beliefs have upon the medical profession and whether we're OK with it, or whether we're not. Personally, I'm OK with it, even though I am an agnostic, but I can see why some people wouldn't be comfortable with it. Particularly secularists.

But what do you think? This is obviously a very interesting story, as it opens many doors for discussion depending on whether you see religion as a force for good, or a delusion which has a corrupting influence. My view is ambivalent, but on the whole, I am inclined to believe that Dr. Scott is a good man who has suffered an injustice here, so I wish him well should he come to face disciplinary proceedings. What are your opinions on the matter?


  1. I absolutely agree with you on this, I'm a patient of Dr Scott, and I don't believe he spontaneously started talking about his faith.
    I'm an atheist but I've not got a problem with religion, it's a personal thing sure, but I expect a doctor to do try everything for me, with the intention of helping me, and that's what he was trying to do.
    He's a great doctor, and I'd be very upset to see this sully his career.

  2. While I agree that this is about secularism I think you misunderstand why secularism is regarded as desirable in the workplace. It has nothing to do with the notion that medicine ought to be scientific. Rather, it's about establishing sensible protocols for conducting business in an environment where the customer (the patient in this case) may request pastoral care. The secular component of the GMC's policy is simply this: while the patient may be given the opportunity to request spiritual comfort, it is not presumed in advance that he or she does want that.

    The GMC seems to have determined, after reviewing the facts presented to it, that Dr Scott's conduct was far enough outside established protocol as to constitute harassment. He has appealed. It's fairly straightforward. He now gets the opportunity to demonstrate that his conduct, which by his own open admission involves soliciting patients to convert to Christianity, falls within the GMC's guidelines.

  3. I can't believe people are clamouring to defend him, especially using this line that it's "well known" to be a Christian-run surgery. Er, is it? People generally just look for the closest surgery to home.
    Have any studies been done showing that completing the bloody Alpha Course has any medicinal benefit? I seriously doubt it, so he should shut up about it.

  4. 13:49 - I see your point. I think I made it clear in my above post that even though I defend Dr Scott's right to religious freedom, I am similarly sceptical about how an alpha course will be of any medicinal benefit, so I can see why some might think he crossed the line by going beyond what was required of a doctor by allegedly allowing his personal prejudices get in the way.

    In the same way I am dubious about faith schools, I view faith-based doctor's practices with the same level of scepticism, especially if in this instance it appears that a doctor is casually 'prescribing' a religious complimentary therapy to a patient. It states in the Telegraph article that "the conversation only turned to religious matters after they had fully explored the medical options" so we should take heed of that.

    However, if I had my way, doctors would do far better to stick to matters of science rather than superstition, but I defended Dr Scott on the basis that the GMC appears to be being using him as a straw man to make a point about secular values in the workplace, which if handled heavy-handedly (which it seems to be at the moemnt) could be considered discriminatory towards people's religious beliefs, which is a dangerous path to tread. That being said, I don't know the full story about the incident, so these are all built on assumptions.

  5. Robert Williams24 May 2011 at 20:27

    Luke, you started off on a very sensible post and then seem to get 'persuaded' by a commentator to turn to utterances about science and superstition. I am not going into a lengthy theological argument, but suffice to say there is no scientific evidence to disprove God anymore there is positive prove, beyond faith, of such existence.

    Having once had a real health scare with seemingly resigned acceptance from the medics, I went to the laying on of hands at an Anglican church and my next check up was clear. There may be many explanations, but I know the experience had a profound effect on me and I don't knock people's faith. Nor do I use expressions like fairy stories or superstition when referring to the bible or religion.

    I leave that to the likes of Stephen Hawkings who believes there was nothing, like sweet FA, then there was a huge bang and suddenly there was everything. And he has the cheek to talk about believing in fairy stories.

  6. Robert, there is no 'persuasion' about it. My view has always been to adopt an agnostic position. I am not an atheist, since I cannot say for certain whether God does not exist any more than I can say he can, but I do respect those who have faith, even though my personal opinion is the evidence is rather flimsy on both sides. I am very open-minded, however, and open to persuasion, as any rational person should be.

    For the record, I do have my own beliefs on matters of theology, and my own definition of the concept of 'God' and a vague sense of spiritualism, but I would not insist these are logical beliefs and I remain sceptical about religious dogma and organised religion, that is all. There are many elements of many faiths which I interpret to be mythological or allegorical (such as Creationism) so those who interpret the story of Genesis literally is something that I find tough to share, for instance, but that doesn't discredit the many other aspects of religion which I can agree with.

    I completely respect you for sharing your experience at the Anglican church after a health scare, and I'm sure I myself would've found my scepticism tested by such an occurrence, so I concede it was uncouth of me to use the word 'superstition' in relation to religion, but I did not intend it to offend those who indeed have faith. Why would I be defending Dr Scott if I didn't feel he was entitled to his religious beliefs?

    My only point is that religion should ideally be left to clerics, and doctors should remain men of science. For the two to overlap flies in the face of medical science's aim of rationality and the notion of secularism in the workplace, but the manner in which Dr Scott is being treated by the GHC is rather unfair and discriminatory. In other words, he is entitled to religious freedom, but if his religious views end up impacting upon his approach to patient care, then I'm a little uneasy about it.

    However, that is my view. And you have yours. But I'm sorry if I caused any offence.

  7. I feel that the problem here is that people are a bit too touchy.

    The Dr was well within his set guidelines in the practice to talk about God with his patient. He honoured the patients request to end the conversation when he did. He was also an adult who was able to make his own choice without his mother interfering.

    The situation is a tricky one, and Doctors are in a difficult position, epecially from a faith perspective. However, for a Christian doctor, they would feel that it is their vocation ordained by God to be there, to be serving the needs of the local community. This, I guess, is why the practice is essentially made up of Christian doctors.

    The UK needs to lighten up and accept the views of believers. If they don't like it, then they can request an end to the conversation. I'm sure there would be no problem if a humanist shared his/her views with a patient at the bedside.

  8. We have a great deal of faith in our doctors, they are almost like secular priests, at whose door we lay some of our most personal and troubling dilemmas. This is why it's problematic to have a doctor evangelising in the way Dr Scott did - it clashes with this faith that our doctor's are recepticles for these dilemmas and also remain objective.

    Robert Williams has a go at Big Bang theory whilst trying to defend proof of god's existence. One is a theory based on evidence the other is superstition based on thousands of years of myth gathering. One of these positions has a place in the medical profession the other doesn't, it's that simple.

    Also, can you imagine if this had been a muslim doctor?

  9. To all the simpletons, sorry atheists, out there, I have something simople to say. Something very simple that you simply won't believe - prayer does work.

    Prayer does work is a proven fact. Why don't atheists believe it? I think that's because there is something not working correctly in their brains.

    There is this strange thought these days that we Christians are being deluded, but that's simply not the case. We aren't the ones who are 'being stupid' in our knowledge (note, I'm saying knowledge rather than belief - because you can believe in anything, but to have knowledge of something means it is a true fact rather than just a belief).

    1. as a simpleton - whoops sorry atheist - i note that if people go round calling christions or those of alternative beliefs stupid that is discrimmination yet you do this openly online towards people who for whatever reason do not agreee with you - stick to topic. The fact of the matter is that we are not pertinent to all the in's and outs of this complex case and that we have no way of knowing if the GP overstepped his professional (** professional**) boundry in addressing his faith with the patient. I'm personally not the type to be offended if my GP was to mention faith but would be very upset if he failed to stop if i tried to end the topic of conversation.
      As for prayer working that is your personal opinion- note personal. I believe that whether you believe in one religion or another or even aliens, if that belief is of a positive nature that can have a positive effect on the outcome. So while you call it prayer i call it positivity.

  10. Robert Williams25 May 2011 at 11:51

    Anon 00:12, no where did I defend proof of God, I defended the right to believe if that is one's choice. I only knocked the Big Bang theory, and theory is all it is, in so far as one of its main proclaimers dismisses religion as fairy stories for those afraid of the dark. Utter arrogant nonsense and offensive to the billions of people who follow a religion in the world.

    The Big Bang theory could well be right, but in itself it does not disprove the possibility of a God. Quite the opposite for who or what created a bang out of nothing.

    On your final point, Anon, I suggest that had the doctor been a muslim nothing at all would have been said by the GMC. Too afraid of being branded racist such is the world we live in.

  11. Luke

    Thanks for this, which I think covers a good deal of the argument. As you note the Health Centre is advertised as having Christian doctors and that both the NHS and GMC guidelines allow for spirituality and faith to be discussed as part of patient care. However as I said on E-Church blog ( the real issue is that of ‘crossing the line’ between talking about faith and recommending faith – particularly when the person on the receiving end of that ‘recommendation’ is vulnerable, in that they are the person with the least power in the doctor/patient relationship; besides the vulnerability which illness can bring to that relationship.

    The GP stated “In our conversation, I said that personally, I had found having faith in Jesus helped me and could help the patient.”

    To my mind this is not a chat about faith, but a recommended course of action.

    Sometimes I think what is helpful is to try and step outside of our cultural familiarity with Christianity. i.e. instead of thinking about this from the perspective of a ‘Christian’ doctor talking about faith – and recommending a HIS beliefs to a patient, what if the doctor was a member of ISKCON (a Hare Krishna)or a Jehohvah’s Witness. Or what if the doctor was a militant atheist and the patent a devout Christian and the doctor ‘rubbished’ the patient’s beliefs.

    It is likely, particular if the doctor spoke about beliefs that weren’t mainstream beliefs, he would face a good deal more censure and professional and social opprobrium. Yet I think the point in the above about homeopathy is interesting. Likewise, I noticed, when I worked in palliative care social work, that reflexology, yoga and other alternative therapies – which a quasi if not actual religious root/discourse – were provided at several of the hospices I visited. Hence there are many examples of ‘civil’ authority ‘pushing’ religion.

    I don’t think there is much to be gained from discussing the matter of the GP from the point of view of the separation of science and religion. I don’t think this was the issue here and most models of social and health care accept, with reliance on (ironically) empirical research, that inclusion of a patient’s religious and spiritual needs can be helpful in patient care. That is not to say it necessarily helps in recovery, but rather in the patient’s experience of treatment and recovery. Yet there is a difference between acknowledgement of a patient’s spiritual needs – and identity – and recommending a particular religion or religious point of view. I think this is where the GP crossed the line.

    What is interesting in this case is how it highlights the fact certain religious beliefs are validated by the state – e.g. the NHS freely allows a GP surgery (that it/we the taxpayer funds) to state that it is ‘Christian’ and that this ‘Christian faith’ is part of the ethos of the medical centre. The very fact this is openly acknowledged rather puts two fingers up at the claim of the whining Christian element, of religion having an unfair deal in society. These doctors aren’t putting their money where their mouth is, are they? They are not ‘going it alone’ in private practice.

    (to be continued...)

    ( is my blog - but for some reason my profile won't link here!)

  12. Continued from above:

    I mention this because part of my own PhD research is looking at similar aspects of faith-based social welfare that is heavily reliant on government funding (not to mention many non-Christian staff, the latter often the ones who actually get their hands dirty!). More and more I am coming to the conclusion that you can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t claim the wonders of Christian (or Jewish or Muslim for that matter) social welfare, when in truth few Christians actually roll up their sleeves and do it and even fewer are prepared to meet the cost (one charity I am working with at present receives 84% of its income from the taxpayer for its homeless services!). These GPs do ‘roll up their sleeves’ but still they are receiving a fat subsidy from you and I to proclaim their Christian credentials.

    Hence a good proportion of the claim of ‘unfairness’ to Christianity in the UK is utter rubbish – and just comes from that long held British tradition of whinging. In the case of the errant GP, the matter has been blown out of all proportion by both the GMC and the Christian Legal Centre - a little bit of mediation would have sufficed. But it seems when ‘within the comfort zone’ martyrdom is on offer (particularly if there is chance of compo) our Christian brethren seem keen to demonstrate how they have been persecuted and suffered... Odd how so many of these ‘professional martyrs’, so keen to justify their right of religion and Biblical ‘truth’ seem to disregard Jesus words:

    “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matt 5:11

    Or learn to ‘turn the other cheek…’ (cf. Matt 5:39).

    Now there’s irony, if ever I saw it…


    Peter (

  13. Robert: You claim "[t]he Big Bang theory could well be right, but in itself it does not disprove the possibility of a God. Quite the opposite for who or what created a bang out of nothing." There are now theories detailing what possibly happened before the Big Bang and none of them contain the notion of god's presence. This is why I claimed you were defending, if not the existence of god, then the belief that god had a hand in the creation of the universe.

    Because of the tone of your post religion seems to be given more credence than science; you sound more sceptical of science than religion when it would appear that science is revealing more answers about why we are here than religion can.

    When you claim that scientific theory is "utter, arrogant nonsense" aren't you sounding a little arrogant yourself? I would argue that it is the faith based community who are responsible for "utter, arrogant nonsense." As for insulting the billions of believers worldwide: what are we supposed to do, shut up and let their irrational views reign?

  14. Robert Williams25 May 2011 at 17:25

    Misread my comment, Anon. I did not say science was arrogant nonsense but that Stephen Hawkins was being arrogant with his dismissal of religious faith. At very least he was been extremely disrespectful to the billions of people who have faith.

    I really find it hard to understand why those who do not believe have to be so rude and dismissive to those that do. Hawkins is supposed to be an intelligent man but he has much to learn about respect and good manners.

    No offence intended to you and, if you don't believe, I respect your right to that opinion. All I ask is you afford the same right of choice to others.

    PS My your science go with you!

  15. Robert: Sorry to come back again with what I detect as an error in your argument but you said this in a previous post: "...main proclaimers dismisses religion as fairy stories for those afraid of the dark. Utter arrogant nonsense and offensive to the billions of people who follow a religion in the world." Not just Stephen Hawking but a whole raft of scientists it seems.

    What you perceive as "rude and dismissive" is hard-based scientific theory trying to overcome irrational-based myth as regards questions about the Universe. Those who are so sure about their faith and god's existence can surely take criticism from others; if Hawking says that heaven is fairytale stuff then I'd imagine that those who believe it isn't will carry on believing regardless.

    I respect the right of the religious to believe what ever they wish to believe as long as they don't proselytise something that is based on man-made constructs. Sadly this is not the case.

  16. From above: "for a Christian doctor, they would feel that it is their vocation ordained by God to be there, to be serving the needs of the local community. This, I guess, is why the practice is essentially made up of Christian doctors."

    That's fine, but why should the taxpayer support him in his 'vocation' there are plenty of ways and means to do a bit of witnessing without wanting the rest of to pay for it...

  17. Robert Williams25 May 2011 at 19:43

    Anon 19:07, you are playing with the words and their meaning. I applied my statement to one of the main proclaimers, that person being Stephen Hawkins. I really cannot see what right he has to rudely dismiss other people as believing in fairy stories and being afraid of the dark. He said it and it was him and no other I was referring to in this debate.

    There is no hard based scientific fact on the subject of a diety or the creation of the universe, just theory based on observation of the universe and its expansion. I do not knock the theory and, if you want to believe that theory dismisses all prospect of a God, then be my guest.

    I have my faith, prayer has served me well in my life and I am content with where I stand on the issue. What I am not doing is insulting you nor do I seek to convert you. I probably have no more tolerance, possibly less, of religious fanatics than you for they discredit religion.

  18. Robert Williams25 May 2011 at 20:06

    Mind you, perhaps I should add that Richard Dawkins discredits atheism in much the same way for he preaches his brand with a fire and brimstone fervour seldom found outside of the American bible belt. On the other hand, he has turned it into a very lucrative business so is probably now motivated by the money.

    If he didn't have religions to attack he would not be half as well off as he is. We all have our God, his just happens to be money.

  19. I thought I would add a small comment with regard to the ethical issue of a doctor sharing his faith with a patient. The fact is, due to doctor patient confidentiality, we do not know precisely the nature of the complaint for which the patient went to the doctor. However, it would appear that it may have had an element that the doctor felt was not purely physical and that the root cause of the patient's sypmtoms was as much due to his mental wellbeing as his physical. Now if you read any unbaised works by leading psychiatrists/psychologists they admit that people with a well grounded religious faith do in fact seem better able to cope with the problems of life and generally have better mental health. (I am not talking about fanatics here but ordinary every day religious worship). Now, as one of these professionals states, he does not recommend rushing out and adopting a faith on this basis alone but nevertheless it is something worth considering, particularly as your mental wellbeing does impact on your physical health. Why do these professionals do not make these findings more widely known - presumably precisely because of the reaction to the doctor currently being discussed. So if you are a doctor and you know from personal experience how beneficial your faith can be and you also think that it might be of benefit to your patient, surely you are being negligent if you do not at least suggest this fact to the patient?

  20. The thing that puzzles me the most is why do atheists so hate Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and others of faith? Why does it matter? Religious people have some sort of belief in continuity, atheists (presumably) don't. Atheism is, in effect, a religion in it's own right - the Richard Dawkins version worships science (or possibly money!)but remember that it was science that told us that the Earth was at the centre of the Universe and invented phlogiston. Why should today's science be any more correct?

  21. In my opinion, simply treating a patient in a completely reductionist, here's a script now off you go, type of way is completely inadequate.

    I myself have been under the care of a GP who prescribed SSRI meds, which were helpful, but in the long run were not too successful.

    You might say they helped with the symptoms, but not with the disease.

    A human being is much more than a container of water and minerals. Not every problem a human being can have in their life can be solved with a prescription. This is blindingly obvious!

    On my own, I started doing a little reading, and watching some of the sermons I found online by guys like Jon Courson and Greg Laurie. This is not really something I ever thought I'd be doing. Nevertheless, I found that they were sincere and honest men, both have had personal tragedies in their lives, and listening to them did me a lot of good.

    I've since mentioned this to the GP I saw earlier on, who was very happy to hear that I was doing better, and who had no problem whatsoever with my mentioning Christianity to him!

    So why should I have any problem with him mentioning it to me? Well done Dr. Scott I say, and keep up the good work.

  22. Religious is a private and personal view and as such should remain private,in other words he should keep his mouth shut and do the job the tax payer pays him to do